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Covid-19 conditions playing havoc with Bafana Bafana selections‚ says coach Molefi Ntseki

Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki has managed only seven matches in over a year in charge of the team due to Covid-19.
Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki has managed only seven matches in over a year in charge of the team due to Covid-19.
Image: Gallo Images

Covid-19 conditions‚ with clubs rotating squads and players picking up injuries‚ are playing havoc with Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki’s squad selections for next month’s crucial 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Ghana and Sudan.

This comes on top of the coach already having endured one of the most difficult introductions of a Bafana coach to international football since his appointment in August 2019.

Ntseki’s first friendly against Zambia in September 2019 was cancelled in response to a wave of attacks on immigrants in South Africa‚ and replacements Madagascar also pulled out‚ with a full-strength Bafana in camp.

Since then it has been non-stop disruptions to Ntseki’s programme at a scale never seen by a previous Bafana coach as the Covid-19 pandemic swept almost all international football aside in 2020.

Ntseki told TimesLIVE that even as he prepares for the final two Africa Cup of Nations Group C qualifiers against Ghana at home on March 22 and Sudan away on March 30‚ a compressed season in South Africa and players not active in Europe are playing havoc with his planning.

Premier Soccer League (PSL) teams are rotating squads at a higher rate than normal as fixtures come thick and fast‚ and players’ conditioning is also not optimal having had no real off-season‚ so many are picking up injuries.

Key players in Europe‚ such as Percy Tau finding his feet in the English Premier League with Brighton and Bongani Zungu falling out of favour at Rangers for breaking Scottish Covid-19 regulations‚ are inactive.

“It has been very difficult because I would say 78 percent of our players who were selected in the past two games [wins against Sao Tome in November] are not playing regularly‚ in Europe‚ and in SA‚” Ntseki said.

“For example Sundowns have been playing in Africa‚ and also the Nedbank Cup and the league.

"Kermit Erasmus normally comes on in the second half‚ or he will start and be replaced. Thapelo Morena has been injured.

“At AmaZulu‚ we had Siyethemba Sithebe in the last squad‚ and he has been injured.

"At Pirates Innocent Maela played for the first time at the weekend when I went to watch them against Jwaneng Galaxy.

“In Europe‚ when Percy Tau joined Brighton he played and I was happy with his performance‚ but for the last three matches or so he has not played.

“Dean Furman’s league [League 2] was suspended by Covid and only came back last week. Kamohelo Mokotjo is still in the South Africa – the league has not started in the US.”

Ntseki said he has also only recently been able to watch PSL matches live again.

“I was at Kaizer Chiefs’ match against SuperSport [on Saturday] watching a game live for the first time since February last year.

"You had eligible players like Ronwen Williams in goal on one side and Itumeleng Khune on the other.

“It is only at the stadium that you can do a proper profiling and assessment of the players‚ unlike for the past year where you could only watch the games on TV.”

Ntseki received criticism for Bafana’s unconvincing performances beating Sao Tome.

But with matches last year coming at times eight months apart‚ the coach had challenges establishing any rapport with a national team that he’s only played seven matches with in a year-and-a-half in charge.

“A coach is like a player. If you play regularly you will improve on your game‚” he said.

“But if the gap is eight‚ nine months without you getting onto a field for training‚ preparing the team‚ analyse and go into a game‚ it becomes a setback.”

The tight situation in Group C – Ghana and South Africa have nine points‚ and Sudan six – means Bafana should need at least one win against Sudan‚ and perhaps a draw against the Black Stars‚ to reach the finals that were delayed to February and January 2022 in Cameroon.