Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund insists he rewarded players purely on performance and form after naming a strong 28-man squad for the forthcoming friendlies against Nigeria and Burkina Faso in Durban.
The national coach sprung a few surprises and justified his comments last week by rewarding players who shone in the recent Cosafa Cup, where South Africa ended third.
Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Bongani Zungu and forward Luyolo Nomandela from Free State Stars were the only two uncapped players chosen, while seven players from the Cosafa Cup squad were picked.
“They deserve to be there,” Igesund said at the Moses Mabhida Stadium today.
“I’ve always said I won’t compromise my principles, I’ll pick players on form and are playing well and that’s what these guys have done.”
South Africa face the Super Eagles, the reigning African champions, in the Nelson Mandela Challenge in Durban on August 14, followed by the Burkinabe in the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day clash at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on August 17.
The seven Cosafa Cup squad members were Wayne Sandilands, Buhle Mkhwanazi, Bevan Fransman, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Tshepo Gumede, Hlompho Kekana and Lebogang Manyama.
“They’ve showed exceptional passion, hunger and commitment to play for their country in the Cosafa Cup,” the coach said.
“These are players we’ve monitored over the past year and I’m hoping they can step up to the plate.”
Nine players, six from Orlando Pirates and three overseas-based players, would only be released for the second game because of club commitments.
One of those Buccaneers was midfielder Andile Jali, who had struggled to make the team recently and was axed for the Africa Cup of Nations.
“We all know he is a very special player,” Igesund explained.
“His form hasn’t been as I’d expected in the past. I think two years ago his form was excellent, but he went through a period where he struggled.
“I watched him in the last two games and he’s improved dramatically. It’s almost as if he was sending a message saying ‘coach, I want to play for my country’.”
High-profile players Thulani Serero, Kagisho Dikgacoi and May Mahlangu, were not included in the squad.
“I’ve not been forced to leave anyone out,” Igesund said.
“Thulani hasn’t played much for his club at this stage, due to injury, and May and KG are some of those who are injured.
“But these players are all aware of the situation. We’ve spoken to them.”
Both matches would give the national team some vital preparation time ahead of their crunch final World Cup qualifier against Botswana on September 7.
“This is great preparation for us because we’re playing two formidable teams,” the coach added.
“It’s a great opportunity to try out a few things with the team with the game against Botswana in mind.”
The squad assemble in Johannesburg on Sunday evening.
The Bafana Bafana squad: Itumeleng Khune, Senzo Meyiwa, Wayne Sandilands, Eric Mathoho, Thabo Nthethe, Tshepo Gumede, Bevan Fransman, Anele Ngcongca, Tsepo Masilela, Thabo Matlaba, Buhle Mkhwanazi, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Innocent Mdledle; Hlompho Kekana, Dean Furman, Oupa Manyisa, Andile Jali, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Thandani Ntshumayelo, Bongani Zungu, Thuso Phala, Daine Klate, Lerato Chabangu; Bernard Parker, Tokelo Rantie, Lebogang Manyana, Luyolo Nomandela.
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