South Africa’s preparations for their crunch 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Burkina Faso on Saturday have been thrown into turmoil after an injury crisis that has the potential to seriously harm their chances of victory.
Bafana Bafana must beat the Burkinabe to keep their hopes of winning a place at the finals in Russia next year alive, but after some key withdrawals already, have a number of injury concerns still pending.
The recent first-choice central defensive pair of captain Thulani Hlatswayo and Erick Mathoho are both definitely out with illness and suspension respectively.
This after Rivaldo Coetzee, another regular in the last couple of years, was also not considered for the game through injury.
It means rookie Matjeka Madisha from Mamelodi Sundowns and veteran Robyn Johannes of Cape Town City have been into the squad. The latter is an experienced campaigner in the Premier Soccer League, but the last of his three caps came all the way back in 2008.
His selection to the squad is warranted though, he has been in fine form for City this season, who he is captaining, and is perhaps unlucky not to have won more caps in the past in his career. Bafana did not concede any goals in the three previous games he played.
It is likely that coach Stuart Baxter will go for the SuperSport United pair of Morgan Gould and Clayton Daniels to start on Saturday, not just because of their greater experience at this level, but also the understanding they have at club level.
That would leave the centre-back pairing short on pace, but both are strong, no-nonsense style players, whose physicality will be necessary against the powerful west Africans.
With uncapped Cape Town City right-back Thamsanqa Mkhize almost certain to start and potentially Sifiso Hlanti at left-back ahead of Tebogo Langerman, Gould and Daniels will have to do a lot of organising of the defence as well.
Baxter will be praying that they are helped out by goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who will captain the side if he is fit to play.
He comes into the squad with a shoulder injury that Baxter believes can be managed, but if it deteriorates through the week then it will be the bitterest of blows for the side.
Khune was sorely missed in the twin defeats by Cape Verde last month where his replacements, Ronwen Williams and Wayne Sandilands, failed to impress in the 2-1 losses.
Khune brings experience and expertise, but also at times a calming influence that is needed.
Midfielder Andile Jali is another big worry after he dislocated his shoulder playing for his Belgian side KV Oostende at the weekend.
It seems likely that he will miss out as the team’s medical staff continue to monitor him over a now recurring problem.
“Jali is a bit more of an issue, because he dislocated his shoulder. We don’t know how severely, but we will be doing an MRI [scan] on it,” Baxter told reporters.
“He continued to play the full game but this is the third time it has happened and they have asked us if we can do an MRI to estimate the severity of the damage done this time.”
It is an area of the pitch where South Africa have depth, though those used against Cape Verde, Hlompho Kekana, Bongani Zungu, Kamohelo Mokotjo and Dean Furman (now suspended), failed to impress.
Jali might well have been in line for a start, especially as he has played well this season despite the struggled of Oostende in the Belgian league.
Thulani Serero is always never far from hamstring or groin issues and will have to be monitored, though there are no indications at this stage that he will not be fit.
Up front, Bradley Grobler has a groin complaint that is also being closely looked at.
“Bradley has got a groin issue that we think is manageable and he will do normal training,” Baxter said.
He is the most experienced out-and-out striker in the squad, even if he has only seven caps.
Baxter does have two other options in the targetman role if he does not play – Azerbaijan-based Dino Ndlovu, so impressive in recent times, and uncapped Under-23 international Lebo Mothiba, who scored a hat-trick for his French Ligue 2 side Valenciennes at the weekend.
Update South Africa squad:
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune, Wayne Sandilands, Ronwen Williams.
Defenders: Robun Johannes, Sifiso Hlanti, Motjeka Madisha, Tebogo Langerman, Thamsanqa Mkhize, Clayton Daniels, Morgan Gould, Reeve Frosler.
Midfielders: Andile Jali, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Hlompho Kekana, Keagan Dolly, Bongani Zungu, Themba Zwane, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Phakamani Mahlambi, Thulani Serero, Lebogang Manyama.
Forwards: Percy Tau, Dino Ndlovu, Lebo Mothiba, Bradley Grobler.