Covid-19 chaos: Bafana coach Ntseki salvages five players‚ including Percy Tau

Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki.
Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki.
Image: Gallo Images

Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki’s squad appears to have emerged relatively unscathed from a Fifa circular decimating squads across the continent for the final two rounds of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

By the assurances Ntseki has received frantically contacting clubs‚ just four of Bafana’s nine overseas-based players will be ruled out of the crucial matches against Ghana at FNB Stadium on March 25 and Sudan in Khartoum on March 28.

And crucially English Premiership-based star striker Percy Tau of Brighton and Hove Albion is among those coming. The others are the three Portugal-based players – Thibang Phete‚ Luther Singh and Lyle Foster; and Israel-based Siyanda Xulu.

This follows a Fifa circular regarding Covid-19 stating that clubs are not expected to release players if there is a “mandatory period of quarantine or self-isolation of at least five days upon arrival”.

France’s Ligue 1 and 2 have declared no players will be released‚ ruling out Montpellier’s Keagan Dolly for Bafana. The other players who will not join Ntseki’s squad are Bongani Zungu (Rangers‚ Scotland)‚ Dean Furman (Carlisle‚ England) and Abu Dhabi-based Thulani Serero.

That Ntseki has managed to retain five of his overseas brigade mitigates to a large extent what might have been a far worse situation.

Ghana‚ having trained with a local-based squad in Accra for a month‚ on Thursday night elected to keep only eight of those players and are aiming to bring some European-based players. But they have not secured headline stars Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace) and Andre Ayew (Swansea City).

“We selected the team seven days before the squad announcement [on March 4] ‚” Ntseki told TimesLIVE on Thursday. “So in those seven days I spoke to all the overseas-based players just to find out their situations‚ and some not playing‚ and why they were not playing.

“I did that research in terms of their availability‚ and they were all positive. But I think what has made life very difficult was for Fifa to appear to be protective of Uefa [European FAs].”

Ntseki already had injury challenges due to frenetic domestic schedules in Covid-19 conditions.

With Tau struggling for first team action at Brighton‚ coach Graham Potter apparently saw Bafana’s two Nations Cup matches as an opportunity for the forward to get valuable game time‚ even with quarantining challenges.

“Percy Tau will be coming – we got confirmation yesterday [Wednesday] from the club‚ and they also asked for the GPS scores of the training sessions and loading for the player‚” Ntseki said.

Ntseki said the four Bafana replacement players will be announced after the weekend's round of DStv Premiership matches.

Ghana had trained for a month with a squad of 22 home-based players plus China-based Mubarak Wakaso and Emmanuel Boateng.

However coach CK Akonnor on Thursday named a squad that had 20 foreign-based players‚ including Orlando Pirates goalkeeper Richard Ofori‚ who has been battling an injury. The fact that Akonnor named an unusually large squad‚ though‚ of 29‚ did perhaps indicate the coach was preparing to be hit by some withdrawals.

The Black Stars coach’s selection does appear to have something of a hit-and-hope quality to it. For example‚ two France-based players‚ the Amiens pair of defender Nicholas Opoku and midfielder Emmanuel Lomotey‚ seem sure to be hit by the Ligue 1 and 2 ruling.

Notable inclusions are Kudus Mohammed ‚ the 20-year-old midfielder who has earned nine Eredivisie appearances at Ajax Amsterdam this season‚ and 17-year-old Abdul Fatawu‚ player of the tournament at the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Mauritania this month.

Akonnor’s squad includes players based in Belgium (two)‚ China (two)‚ France (two)‚ Germany (two)‚ Turkey (two)‚ Netherlands (two)‚ South Africa‚ Greece‚ Slovakia‚ Egypt‚ England‚ Italy‚ Spain and Portugal.

Ghana squad:

Goalkeepers: Richard Ofori (Orlando Pirates‚ South Africa)‚ Razak Abalora (Asante Kotoko‚ Ghana)‚ Eric Ofori Antwi (Medeama SC‚ Ghana)‚ Danlad Ibrahim (Asante Kotoko‚ Ghana)

Defenders: Baba Abdul Rahman (PAOK‚ Greece)‚ Gideon Mensah (Vitória de Guimarães‚ Portugal)‚ Benson Annan (MLK Zilina‚ Slovakia)‚ Philemon Baffuor (Dreams FC‚ Ghana)‚ Nicholas Opoku (Amiens SC‚ France)‚ Kasim Nuhu (1899 Hoffenheim‚ Germany)‚ Ganiyu Ismael (Asante Kotoko‚ Ghana)‚ Stephen Ambrosius (Hamburger SV‚ Germany)

Midfield: Kudus Mohammed (Ajax Amsterdam‚ Holland)‚ Mubarak Wakaso (Jiangsu Suning FC‚ China)‚ Afriyie Acquah (Yeni Malatyaspor‚ Turkey)‚ Emmanuel Lomotey (Amiens SC‚ France)‚ Iddrisu Baba (RCD Mallorca‚ Spain)‚ Gladson Awako (Great Olympics‚ Ghana)‚ Kwame Afriyie Poku (Colchester United‚ England)‚ Osman Bukari (Gent‚ Belgium)‚ Joseph Esso (Dreams FC‚ Ghana)‚ Kamal Sowah (OH Leuven‚ Belgium)‚ Abdul Fatawu Issahaku (Steadfast FC‚ Ghana)

Attackers: Emmanuel Boateng (Dalian Professional‚ China)‚ Emmanuel Gyasi (Spezia‚ Italy)‚ Kwame Opoku (Asante Kotoko‚ Ghana)‚ John Antwi (Pyramids FC‚ Egypt)‚ Kwasi Okyere Wriedt (Willem II‚ Holland)‚ Caleb Ekuban (Trabzonspor‚ Turkey)