Themba Zwane’s suspension for South Africa’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) last 16 clash with hosts Egypt on Saturday will surely open the door for Thembinkosi Lorch to finally make his bow at the tournament.
At least a fairly large portion of Bafana fans would like to think so.
Lorch, recently crowned PSL Footballer of the Year, has been a hot topic on social media, due to head coach Stuart Baxter’s perceived reluctance to place his faith in the Pirates winger – who has failed to get any game-time in Bafana’s opening three matches.
Granted, Baxter has an abundance of players like Lorch in his squad – skilful, attacking midfielders – such as Zwane, Thulani Serero, Lebohang Maboe, Bongani Zungu, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Percy Tau, who can operate as a striker or a winger.
Lorch however arguably offers a little something extra – in terms of his unpredictability, his imagination on the field, and his ability to beat players and make something out of nothing.
He would bring an X-factor, and so far, that’s exactly what a pedestrian Bafana have been missing in the Land of the Pharaohs; a player bold enough to take the game to the opposition, someone with the creative vision and pace to put defenders on the back-foot.
After registering 15 goals and five assists in 40 matches last season and not only thrilling fans with his skill, but also showing himself to have the composure needed in front of goal, surely Lorch deserves a run on Saturday in the absence of Zwane, who picked up two yellow cards in the tournament.
Why not throw caution to the wind, because so far it’s been Bafana’s guarded approach and laboured efforts in attack that has angered supporters. It also displeased Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Danny Jordaan, the SAFA president and effectively Baxter’s boss, who have both made their opinions known.
Baxter meanwhile has displayed a bit of an air of a man who has become frustrated in his job, and he has come under fire back home. Having failed to inspire his troops thus far, all eyes now are on how he will set up his team against Egypt. If a greater attacking intent is shown, and if Lorch is anywhere in those plans.
The Lorch debate aside, Bafana’s attackers have all carried very little threat at the tournament thus far. That includes main striker Lebo Mothiba, as well as South Africa’s talisman, Tau.
Tau had about 20 good minutes of action after Zungu scored midway through the second half against Namibia in what has been South Africa’s only goal, and only win, from their three group games.
Like most of his team-mates, Tau – hoping to put himself in the shop window for the European scouts no doubt watching at AFCON – has appeared to be shackled, unable to consistently express himself in attack as has become customary over the last three years.
Whether that’s because of the pressure, the weight of expectant supporters back home, or an over-elaboration of tactics coupled with an overly defensive approach, or maybe just the quality and effort put in by the opposition, something has just not been right with what really is a talented group of South African players.
The bottom line now, and Bafana know it, is that they’re very lucky to still to be in Egypt – after sneaking in the back door as the worst of the four third-placed teams which made it out the group phase.
And given the chance to reprieve themselves to a nation already feeling rather down over the recent failures of the Proteas, Banyana Banyana and the Under-20s at the World Cup – Bafana must, at the very least – if they are to be eliminated – go out all guns blazing.
That said, we do have the players to potentially hurt the Pharaohs – if they are in the mood that is.
With a little bit of luck and perhaps an early goal to put the hosts under pressure, who knows, maybe, just maybe, Bafana will turn up with their A-game, and cause a major shock. They certainly have nothing to lose.