Johannesburg - It is often said that when the US coughs, the rest of the world catches a fever. It is the same with Bafana Bafana when the country’s number one player, Itumeleng Khune, sustains an injury – the stress levels rise.
The last time Khune was not on the team, Bafana lost back-to-back matches to Cape Verde, hence the panic. His absence always psychologically affects the players.
Khune comes with natural talent, hard work, bags of experience, great organisational skills, an ability to spot and snuff out danger, and a superb distribution ability that launches dangerous attacks.
With his foot skills, he can also play a sweeper role. He commands the respect of his defenders and instills confidence in them.
Additionally, his very name strikes fear into the hearts of opposition forwards. He leads from the back and starts attacks from his own area.
But his recent injury in a game against Chippa United has once again exposed the gaping canyon that is present in the country’s shot-stopping stock.
Not won the trust
Khune’s athleticism, skill and talent made up for the fact that there is no decent backup behind him.
It is only when he is not around that the nation realises how thin Bafana are in the goalkeeping department.
SuperSport United’s Ronwen Williams has not won the trust of the nation after his howlers in national colours, while Wayne Sandilands has also lost his compatriots’ confidence after his below-par performance in the defeat against Cape Verde recently.
But how did it get to this point?
Former Bafana goalkeeper Brian Baloyi has put the blame squarely on Premier Soccer League (PSL) clubs’ shoulders, saying they did not develop many goalkeepers.
Baloyi, who had 24 Bafana caps, said the country was facing a goalkeeping crisis as well as striker shortages.
He said there was a need to address these challenges at developmental and club levels.
No international experience
“What do we make of a situation where seven PSL clubs have foreign goalkeepers? In fact, what does it say when Sundowns alone has three international goalkeepers?” asked the Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper coach.
Nine clubs rely on local keepers, but, except for Williams and Sandilands, they have no international experience at the highest level.
AmaZulu’s Boalefa Pule is the only one who comes close, having kept goals in the junior national team and Bafana’s CAF African Nations Championship qualifiers.
Frankly, there hasn’t been anyone who has come close to Khune’s standard, and this has been evident on more than one occasion.
Back in 2015 at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, former coach Shakes Mashaba had to use three of his goalkeepers – Darren Keet, Brilliant Khuzwayo and Jackson Mabokgwane – in each of the group games against Algeria, Ghana and Senegal because no one could claim the number one spot.
In fact, since the death of Senzo Meyiwa in 2014, no one has come close to challenging the Kaizer Chiefs number one.
The goalkeepers can’t say they were not given a chance – they were, but failed to grasp it with both hands.
Too hot to handle
Brighton Mhlongo was tipped to challenge Khune, but he has also fallen by the wayside. He does not even keep goals at his Chippa United team.
Baloyi said there was no need to panic, but that the other goalkeepers needed to be supported and encouraged.
“It does not make sense to talk evil about them because we are going to need them one day. But they really need to come to the party and win back our confidence. For now, we have to keep supporting them and hope for the best. We know what they are capable of because they are good at their clubs".
But perhaps they are only good for club football and find the international stage too hot to handle.
This has been evident as most of them have been given chances to keep goals at international level, but were often found wanting.
They need to step up to the plate because the country cannot rely solely on Khune. He can’t be expected to carry the nation’s hopes alone, and his absence must not continue to raise blood pressures.