Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Khune epitomises SA’s rise
Cape Town – Four matches in Group G of the African Nations Cup qualifying process and comfortable leaders Bafana Bafana are yet to concede a goal.GALLERY: Egypt v Bafana Bafana
Keeping another crucial clean sheet against Egypt in Cairo on Sunday night against desperate, once-mighty opponents was a core factor in their emergence from the encounter – “escape” would be under-valuing South Africa’s competence and composure – with a healthy point.
So in rather obvious statistical terms, there is fair reason to surmise that goalkeeping is not exactly a problem area for the national side at present, even if other factors clearly come into play in the heartening shutout.
Yet it is true: in the shape of incumbent Itumeleng Khune of Kaizer Chiefs, the country is suddenly being particularly well served between the sticks.
Khune was first identified as likely best ‘keeping bet by the much-maligned Joel Santana - who did some good things amidst bouts of bumbling by both himself and his charges - and that status was unaltered during the second coming of Carlos Alberto Parreira.
And the 23-year-old has arguably only reinforced his right to be the “number one No 1” since Pitso Mosimane took over as coach after the World Cup and Bafana continue their profound claw-back on the FIFA rankings.
He was probably even more influential when South Africa clung on for a prior away draw in Freetown, Sierra Leone, but Sunday’s effort by the Ventersdorp product in the rather more exotic location of Cairo (when prolific, unsavoury use of laser devices from the crowd only added to the difficulty of the job) similarly went a long way to strengthening his team’s foothold in the group.
Even in the earliest of his Bafana appearances just over three years ago, Khune’s agility and reflex short-stopping ability was not held in any major doubt: more concerning then was his penchant, as with a few predecessors in the country’s goal, for flapping at crosses and making daft forays off his line.
There is still a touch of flamboyance to Khune’s play, but many custodians have that characteristic – especially in more modern football – and it can carry important comfort for them as a personal gee-up device.
Sometimes the world’s more robotic goalkeepers, if you like, may offer an extra pinch of superiority in reliability terms, but are also less capable than counterparts of Khune’s kind when the mercurial, the “bit special”, is called for.
The really rosy thing about the Khune of 2011, however, is the way his “basics” have come on: he is now plucking the ball out of the air decisively and authoritatively, while maintaining his lustre for the smart, essential save when the situation demands it.
Nor are we witnessing as many madcap, overly impulsive moments, even if he is still not completely averse to them in the Absa Premiership landscape.
At the Cairo Military Stadium, Khune was responsible for one silly gremlin when he mishandled what should have been a fairly routine retrieval of the ball in the tense second half and conceded a corner.
These kinds of things can be costly and cruelly decisive, but in this case it wasn’t.
And if the moment served as a tiny, additional tap on the side of the head for him that all ‘keepers are mortal, perhaps it did him no harm in refocusing him during the closing stages as the gate the Egyptians sought so keenly to prise open stayed near-heroically closed.
Itumeleng Khune is growing up, along with so many others in the increasingly more steely, cohesive national team he represents.
With age strongly on his side, he seems on a pretty good course to establishing himself as South Africa’s best goalkeeper yet in the post-isolation era.