Serero plucked from the international wilderness

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CAPE TOWN, November 5 – Bafana Bafana ‘bad boy’ Thulani Serero has been handed the chance to resurrect his international career after being called up to the South African national side for a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Nigeria.

The Netherlands-based attacking midfielder was involved in controversy when he refused to honour a national team call-up for a World Cup qualifying game with Senegal in November 2017, unless he was guaranteed game-time.

In a Dutch media report in November 2017, Serero was quoted as saying: “The sofa in Arnhem is more comfortable than the South African bench.”

Reports in the South African media in February this year then claimed that Serero had officially been banned from playing for the national team.

However, SA Football Association (Safa) president Danny Jordaan last week refuted such speculation, and effectively left the door open for Serero’s return:

“There was this idea that Serero was banned by Safa, but we don’t know about that and they know that it is a do or die (match against Nigeria). You know when South Africa plays Nigeria you must forget about history, tradition and forget about everything,” Jordaan said.

Serero’s return was subsequently confirmed on Monday when he was named in the Bafana side to face the Super Eagles of Nigeria in an Afcon qualifier at the FNB Stadium on November 17.

In the interim, the former Ajax Cape Town playmaker has been quietly getting on with business for his Dutch top flight side Vitesse; last season he featured in 33 of 34 league matches, scoring twice, while in the current campaign, he’s started all 11 Eredivisie matches, although he is yet to find the net.

This was after he had been reduced to a bit-part player in his last two seasons (2015/16 and 2016/17) at Ajax Amsterdam, which included a couple of stints in the reserve team.

The Soweto-born player’s return has seemingly been helped by a number of injuries to regular Bafana Bafana midfielders, including Kamohelo Mokotjo, Bongani Zungu, Keagan Dolly, Dean Furman and Sibusiso Vilakazi, although head coach Stuart Baxter claims it was not ‘a knee-jerk reaction’ in calling Serero back into the frame.

This will be the second time South Africa face Nigeria in the 2019 Afcon qualifiers, having kicked off their campaign with a 2-0 win over the Super Eagles in Uyo last year, in what was Baxter’s first match in charge in his second spell with the national team.

Nigeria currently lead Group E with nine points, with South Africa on eight and Libya, who are expected to beat the Seychelles in their next game, on four points. Bafana, who need to finish in the top two to qualify for the next Afcon, end their qualifying campaign away to Libya in March 2019.

Bafana squad:

Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs), Ronwen Williams (SuperSport United), Darren Keet (Bidvest Wits).

Defenders: Ramahlwe Mphahlele (Kaizer Chiefs), Motjeka Madisha (Sundowns), Siyanda Xulu (Maritzburg), Thulani Hlatshwayo (Wits), Innocent Maela (Pirates), S’fiso Hlanti (Wits), Buhle Mkhwanazi (Wits) Thamsanqa Mkhize (CT City).

Midfielders: Vincent Pule (Pirates), Lebohang Maboe (Sundowns), Hlompho Kekana (Sundowns), Fortune Makaringe (Maritzburg), Teboho Mokoena (SuperSport), Tiyani Mabunda (Sundowns), Thulani Serero (Vitesse), Thembinkosi Lorch (Pirates).

Strikers: Lebo Mothiba (Strasbourg), Percy Tau (Royal Union), Dino Ndlovu (Zhejiang), Themba Zwane (Mamelodi Sundowns).