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Bafana keeper Khune may come across as a ‘softie’ but is in fact a ‘warrior’

By Marc Strydom In Uyo‚ Nigeria | 2017-06-10 13:58:39.0

Itumeleng Khune is such a poor actor when he starts his amateur theatrics and time-wasting tricks that the Bafana Bafana goalkeeper can have a reputation as something of a softie.

But he is anything but. The Kaizer Chiefs captain — one of the best keepers in Africa‚ and one of the world’s best distributors of the ball from that position — is a warrior‚ the extent of which the public is not always aware of.

As Khune prepares to take his place in goal in Saturday evening’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Nigeria in Uyo‚ he is just the sort of soldier new coach Stuart Baxter has identified who might be able to lead Bafana to a result against their nemesis team.

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No story illustrates that point better than the one about the time when Khune‚ the player who once famously slept in a train station while trying out for Chiefs’ youth system‚ became ill with dysentery ahead of South Africa’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou in October.

It has been told before‚ but is worth a recap from Bafana team doctor Thulani Ngwenya.

“’Itu’ started being sick two days before the game. He had a stomach bug‚ but it wasn’t too severe‚” Ngwenya recalled in Nigeria on Friday night.

“And then after that the whole team was sick — but Itu’s diarrhoea was worse because it had blood. So it was called dysentery.

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“So we started giving him antibiotics‚ and we packed him with Imodium. And he drank Coke on his own‚ because he thought it would help him.

“But we overdosed him on antibiotics and Imodium just to stop him from having diarrhoea.

“On match day he still had diarrhoea. But we had to assess him during the warm-up because we were really scared he would not make it. He was actually dehydrated. But we packed him with a lot of fluids and Dehydrate.

“And we packed him again with medicine. During warm-up he responded well to treatment. The diarrhoea stopped — probably due to the adrenalin.

“But he then played and he did very well for us. He had a very good game.

“It was actually remarkable how he responded. We actually can’t really explain how it happened.”

Ngwenya‚ a solid football man as much as he is a medical doctor‚ and student of the game‚ said he was shocked that Khune managed to play‚ let alone save a penalty in a crucial result for Bafana on the path toward Russia 2018.

“He is indeed a warrior‚” the doctor said. “He comes across as a softie. But those things that he does — time-wasting and stuff — are a tactical thing.

“It’s not because he is a softie. He is a warrior and a fighter. And he takes things very seriously.

“Especially fighting for his country. He does it with all his heart.”

Khune will start in Saturday’s game against Nigeria at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium as Bafana aim for a draw or even a famous win in new coach Stuart Baxter’s first match‚ in SA’s opening game of the Cameroon 2019 qualifiers.

South Africa and the Super Eagles are drawn with Libya and Seychelles in Group E.