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Mkhalele becomes first of ’96 generation to take charge of a Bafana game

Helman Mkhalele was appointed the Bafana Bafana local assistant coach in May 2021. File photo
Helman Mkhalele was appointed the Bafana Bafana local assistant coach in May 2021. File photo
Image: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

Helman Mkhalele will make a small piece of history when he becomes the first member of Bafana Bafana’s celebrated 1996 Africa Cup of Nations-winning squad to take charge of the national team in an official match against Uganda on Thursday night.

Events have thrust exciting 1990s Bafana and Orlando Pirates winger Mkhalele, 51, affectionately known as 'Ncane', to being all alone in the international friendly at Orlando Stadium (kickoff 6pm).

Mkhalele was the final addition to new Bafana coach Hugo Broos’s technical team. He was not initially considered as the Belgian wanted former Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki to be his assistant alongside Belgian-Macedonian Cedomir Janevski.

But with Broos watching his first Bafana match from native Belgium, where he is receiving his Covid-19 vaccination, and Janevski in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, the job of shouting instructions has been left to Mkhalele, also SA’s Under-20 coach.

The 69-year-old Broos had made it clear at his first press conference as Bafana coach that he would not be available to sit on the bench against Uganda.

Speaking ahead of what should be his biggest match as a coach, Mkhalele said: “We’re ready for the challenge.

“In relation to the players we had some setbacks with — like Rivaldo Coetzee, Mothobi Mvala and Musa Lebusa — and who had to be replaced because of injury, we had to make sure we found a backup for them.

“We knew [before the squad assembled] that some of the players might be injured or some might be affected health-wise. We have brought in the likes of Evidence Makgopa and Denwin Farmer, so we’re as a team ready for the challenge.

“As a nation we have to ensure that if cases like these arise we will be able to stand up to the task. So we are ready for the game.”

Bafana’s preparations have been chaotic from day one with England-based Percy Tau and the SuperSport United midfield duo of Teboho Mokoena and Sipho Mbule pulling out on Monday due to Covid-19. Their departure was followed by the withdrawals of the Sundowns trio of Lebusa, Coetzee and Mvala through injury.

The match is the first one since Bafana failed in March to qualify for the 2021 Nations Cup, leading to Ntseki’s dismissal and Hunt’s subsequent appointment.

The new Bafana coach, who won the Nations Cup with Cameroon in 2017, wanted to run the rule over some of his new players before SA start the group stage of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in September. But with his team now so severely depleted there’s surely little that he will be able to take from Thursday’s matchup.

Captain Ronwen Williams tried to put a positive spin on an increasingly dire situation for Bafana, saying the players facing Uganda have a great chance to impress the new coach while he watches from afar.

“It is a new dawn, new players and a lot of new faces,” said the SuperSport goalkeeper.

“But it’s a continuity — Bafana have always been there and always had players. We’re just adding from what we had before.

“The guys who’ve come in have done really well over the last few seasons, and like the coach [Broos] said in his first interview, he wanted to bring in new and young players.

“He’s done that and it’s for them to grab the opportunity. It’s a new challenge and it’s not going to be easy because it’s a new team but the guys are ready and we have done a lot of work in a very short space of time.”

Like Bafana, Uganda failed to qualify for Afcon 2021.