Mbazo backs Phete, De Reuck due to their heights

Who should partner Tyson in heart of Bafana defence?

Sihle Ndebele Journalist
Captain Thulani Hlatshwayo will have a new partner in Bafana's central defence tonight.
Captain Thulani Hlatshwayo will have a new partner in Bafana's central defence tonight.
Image: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images

As skipper Thulani "Tyson" Hlatshwayo’s long-standing Bafana Bafana central defensive partner Buhle Mkhwanazi is out of the picture, the national team needs a centre-back to step up to the plate and form a new partnership with Hlatshwayo.

Mkhwanazi hasn’t played any competitive game this season as he’s still at loggerheads with his club Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila over certain clauses in his contract.

Inactivity is the reason the 30-year-old defender, who’s been Hlatshwayo’s partner at the heart of Bafana rearguard for a while, isn’t part of the squad to host Sao Tome and Principe in the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier at Moses Mabhida Stadium tonight (9pm).

In the last outing, a 2-1 defeat to Zambia in a friendly last month, coach Molefi Ntseki deployed Mamelodi Sundowns’ Motjeka Madisha to play with 30-year-old Hlatshwayo in central defence. And this is likely to happen again this evening.

In the picture there are also players such as overseas-based Thibang Phete and Maritzburg United’s Rushine de Reuck, who’s in the squad for the first time. Phete withdrew from the current squad due to injury.

In the books of Portuguese top-flight club Belenenses, Phete made his Bafana debut in the 1-1 stalemate in a friendly against Namibia last month. He started alongside the 28-year-old Mosa Lebusa of Sundowns in  central defence.

With age on their side, De Reuck, 24, Madisha, 25, and Phete, 26, stand a good chance to be Bafana regulars. One of them is likely to be Hlatshwayo’s long-term partner.

Former Bafana skipper and centre-back Aaron "Mbazo" Mokoena has recommended Phete because of his height (1.87m) and that he has better experience by playing in a top-flight European league.

“We are fortunate to have a young player such as Thibang who’s on top of his game in Portugal. He’s accumulating international experience week-in-week out in Portugal, coming up against big clubs such as Porto and Benfica,’’ Mokoena told Sowetan.

“He’s tall as well and that’s vital. I watched him against Namibia, he’s so comfortable on the ball as well.’’

As Phete isn’t in the squad now, Mokoena feels De Reuck must be preferred ahead of Madisha to partner  skipper Hlatshwayo tonight.

“I don’t have a problem with Madisha but his [1.76m] height worries me. So I would go for Rushine [1.83m]. Height is very important in international football, especially when you’re a centre-back.’’

Sao Tome forfeited their home venue and the second leg will be played at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, on Monday (3pm).

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