With players not only in the South African squad for the African Cup of Nations Cup final but also representation in the Ghana and Zambia selections, the Premiere Soccer League will be the best represented league at the tournament in Equatorial Guinea
A total of 18 different African leagues are represented at the 16-team tournament, but the PSL has the biggest contingent – with a total of 23 players selected.
There are 18 in the Bafana Bafana squad, three in the Zambian selection and two who have been chosen by Ghana. The three Zambians are Kennedy Mweene (Mamelodi Sundowns) and the Bloemfontein Celtic pair of Davies Nkausu and Mukuka Mulenga. Mohamed Awal (Maritzburg United) and Edwin Gyimah (Mpumalanga Black Aces) have been called up by the Black Stars.
The numbers from the PSL easily beats the 15 for the Tunisian league and 12 called up from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s league.
TP Mazembe Englebert are the club with the most players, having three in their own national team squad plus two Zambians, a Ghanaian and a defender from Mali for a total of seven.
It beats the six from AC Leopards of Congo (five for Congo and one for Gabon) and the five called up from Kaizer Chiefs, who are all in the South African squad.
The Cape Verde Islands and Senegal are the only national teams at the tournament without players from their own league. All of their 23-man squads are from outside the continent. NOW that he is over his shock Bafana Bafana soccer call-up, Ayanda Gcaba believes the valuable experience he gained from the African Champions League with Orlando Pirates might have given him the edge over the more fancied replacements for injured clubmate Patrick Phungwayo.
Phungwayo was withdrawn from the 23-man squad at the weekend, leaving coach Shakes Mashaba a player short in his Africa Cup of Nations team for the tournament that kicks off this weekend in Equatorial Guinea.
The most unlikely of alternatives in Gcaba will board a flight to Gabon this afternoon to join Bafana’s pre-tournament camp in Libreville.
“I was genuinely surprised, especially because the last time I was on the radar was when Pitso Mosimane was the coach,” Gcaba said yesterday.
“But as a player you can never say you ‘never’ expect to represent your country. It is not ideal to come in as a replacement for a player like Patrick, but this happens to the best of us.”
The 28-year-old, from Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal, continues to struggle for regular game-time at Pirates and is perhaps not heading to the Afcon to displace another clubmate of his in Thabo Matlaba at left back.
But, then again, coach Mashaba overlooked previous Afcon campaigners in Tsepo Masilela and Luvolwethu Mpeta, who was part of Bafana’s final two qualifiers against Sudan and Nigeria last year, roping in Gcaba instead.
So his chances of making the lineup are as good as any of his Bafana teammates.
The physicality of South Africa’s opposition in Group C means minor knocks are a possibility as shown when Tokelo Rantie, Rivaldo Coetzee and Bernard Parker had to sit out yesterday’s training session following their 1-1 draw with Cameroon on Saturday.
“What is important for me now is to understand what the coach wants from everyone. I am a versatile player and wherever there’s a spot, I am there to fill in. I want to get to know Shakes Mashaba,” Gcaba said.
“I’ve seen how these guys worked hard for each other during the qualifiers, and you can see that they are hungry and passionate about representing the country.
“They want to win. I want some of that to rub off on me. This will be my first Afcon and I think I will be happy gaining experience.”
He might not find it that difficult to adjust to playing away from Orlando Stadium following eight starts for the Buccaneers in 14 of their Champions League matches nearly two seasons ago against some of Africa’s premier clubs.
“The best way to use that experience is to talk to each other about playing outside South Africa. There’s a lot that we can offer as players who’ve played in the Champions League.”
– Mark Gleeson