Bafana Bafana

Palace star to beef up Bafana?

2013-08-21 23:32
Kagisho Dikgacoi (Getty Images)
Cape Town – Even through many depressingly lean periods for the national team, there was always something reassuring about the presence of at least one routinely English Premiership-standard player in the Bafana Bafana ranks ... a certain Steven Pienaar.

The popular little Everton midfield dynamo represented South Africa wholeheartedly over the course of some 10 years until his regrettable “retirement” from internationals, aged only 30 at the time, in October last year.

Bafana tend not to be prolifically loaded these days with names from any of the really major European leagues, after once being able to field the likes of Shaun Bartlett, Mark Fish, Lucas Radebe and Benni McCarthy, most of them stalwarts for significant periods in the Premiership, the most popular league in the world and among the top two or three for quality.

But the phenomenon has rather deserted Bafana more recently, a situation aggravated by Pienaar, who was also familiar with the captain’s armband over his 61-cap course of duty between 2002 and 2012, abandoning the cause to focus wholly on his club career at Goodison Park.

Making cautious strides at best so far under the coaching tenure of Gordon Igesund, South Africa continue to languish in unremarkable territory on the FIFA rankings, where they are presently 67th and wrestling long odds to somehow sneak into the Brazil-staged 2014 World Cup.

Under the circumstances, the country needs as much of a feel-good factor as it can get from players earning decent visibility and favourable ratings in the juggernaut leagues of the northern hemisphere ... which makes the apparent re-emergence of Kagisho Dikgacoi in England’s top flight at least some cause for optimism.

The Brandfort-born former Fulham player, who never managed to settle regularly into the first-team picture in two years at Craven Cottage, is gradually carving a more solid niche for himself with promoted co-Londoners Crystal Palace.

Robust defensive midfielder Dikgacoi – stubbornly still pronounced by English television commentators as 'Dikkachoy' – was as gritty as any Palace team-mate on the opening weekend of the 2013/14 season, when the home team narrowly succumbed 1-0 in a derby to established relative giants Tottenham, who were fifth-placed in 2012/13.

Egged on by a noisy, atmospheric full house at 26 000-capacity Selhurst Park, the South African played every minute of Sunday’s engrossing game, and so nearly had his name up in lights as a late Spurs party-spoiler – he forced an inspired double save out of French international ‘keeper Hugo Lloris.

Considering his key role in Palace’s ultimately successful drive out of the second-tier Championship last season, the 28-year-old is evidently a more settled part of club-level furniture these days – a visit to Palace’s official website (granted, such profiles will always lay on the rah-rah a bit) sees him described as a 'vital cog in the Eagles’ engine room'.

With a bit of luck he will only continue to blossom, especially as Palace’s next foes are moderate Stoke (away) and Sunderland (home), before the acid test of a visit to Old Trafford to tackle champions Manchester United on September 14.

Dikgacoi has missed several opportunities to add to his 53-cap Bafana tally in recent months, given that he tore calf ligaments in the first half of Palace’s critical 1-0 victory over Watford in the Championship playoff final in late May; his last appearance came off the bench on March 23 when South Africa quite impressively saw off Central African Republic 2-0 at Cape Town Stadium in a World Cup qualifier.

But the former Golden Arrows star had been a stalwart of the national team before that, including being a first-teamer at the outset of Bafana’s spirited group performance at home-staged World Cup 2010, albeit that successive yellow cards meant he missed being part of their best result, the sadly academic 2-1 triumph over France.

Fully recuperated now, Dikgacoi seems in a happy mental space at Selhurst Park and must be an increasingly attractive option for South Africa’s closing World Cup African group qualifier against Botswana at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on September 7.

South Africa have to win and hope pace-setting Ethiopia fail to prevail in their own clash with Central African Republic, if they are to somehow progress to the African next-phase elite playoffs bunch which will determine the continent’s eventual representatives in Brazil.

“Dikkachoy” may just bring some very timely steel to the quest ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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