Big concern over Bafana defenders

Thulani Hlatshwayo during the 2018 Africa Cup of Nations qualification match between South Africa and Seychelles. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Thulani Hlatshwayo during the 2018 Africa Cup of Nations qualification match between South Africa and Seychelles. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Stuart Baxter must hope his Bidvest Wits Bafana Bafana defenders show their international form, and not their current club form if and when they take to the field for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Libya in Sfax, Tunisia on March 24.

Buhle Mkhwanazi, Thulani Hlatshwayo and Sifiso Hlanti have formed a key part of a Bafana Bafana defence that has conceded just once in the process of qualifying for Egypt 2019, but the three had their own coach at the Clever Boys, Gavin Hunt, bemused as to a capitulation by Wits in a recent 3-2 loss at home to Cape Town City.

Mkhwanazi was substituted from the field in the loss at home to City after “two mistakes” and did not play at all in Wits’ 2-0 loss to AmaZulu on Saturday night, though on reflection, that probably does his reputation more good than harm.

Hlatshwayo, of course, is Bafana’s captain, so he was always going to make the squad, and has been played mostly at rightback by Hunt, a surprising decision from the Wits coach, when he has been so good for Wits as a centreback in the past. Baxter is certainly likely to return “Tyson” to the centre of his defence against Libya.

Hlanti has also been part of a Wits defence that has kept just two clean sheets in ten matches, derailing their challenge for the Absa Premiership title, though not yet permanently.

It is slightly worrying for Bafana that three of their regular defenders have not been as reliable as usual, in a game that they must get at least a point from to qualify for Egypt 2019, but it is also understandable that Baxter is not about to suddenly shake up his defence ahead of such a crucial game.

One more clean sheet, after all, and Bafana will have qualified.

The two surprises in Baxter’s squad are undoubtedly Bruce Bvuma as the third-choice goalkeeper and Lars Veldwijk. Veldwijk has scored 17 league goals for Sparta Rotterdam this season, but only one of those has come in 2019, and he may well have been a better call-up when Bafana played the Seychelles home-and-away last October, given South Africa’s failure to score away from home.

In a sense, Kermit Erasmus or Mxolisi Machupu feel like better picks on current form, though one understands leaving out Erasmus, given his previous issues with Bafana.

Even more understandable is the decision to put Bongani Zungu and Keagan Dolly in the mix, even though they may not be fully fit. Dolly has at least been playing for Montpellier’s reserve side, and both are likely to be crucial players for Bafana going forward.

In this week’s Phakaaathi, Baxter explains some of his decisions, in a game that, if Bafana lose, will surely be his last at the helm. If they draw or win, one hopes he stays to lead the team into the Africa Cup of Nations.

Elsewhere in this week’s Phakaaathi, we hear from Noko Matlou, who recently earned her 150th cap for Banyana Banyana, and from Travis Graham, looking to revitalise his career at Cape Town City.

We also announce the winner of our Player of the Month competition for February, with Thembinkosi Lorch, Thamsanqa Mkhize, Lebo Maboe and Lerato Lamola the men who were in the running. And we hear from former Bloemfontein Celtic star Moses Spandeel on life after football, while Dean Furman tells us his favourite holiday destinations.

All that remains is for me to remind you of the chance to enter Phakaaathi’s Private Fantasy League, by following the rules in the advert on Page 7, for a chance to win great monthly prizes.


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