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It’s the greatest of feelings

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‘I just have to build on this and keep going forward’

LEBOGANG Phiri left Orlando Stadium on cloud nine after his best performance in Bafana Bafana colours which he topped off with his first goal for the senior men’s national team.

Phiri’s goal was enough to give Bafana maximum points in the 1-0 win over Sudan on Sunday in a 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. The 25-year-old put in a stellar performance for Bafana, which was made more remarkable by the fact that he wasn’t playing in his natural position.

“It’s been a while since I played in such an offensive role. At club level I play as a defensive No 6 (central midfielder) because I am a ball player. But the coach believed that today we needed a different element in the game which is why he put me in that position (as a forward).

“He gave me the confidence and I did my level best. I gave numbers going forward and I pitched in with the defensive work when we lost the ball,” Phiri said.

Phiri’s talent was always there to see, but the fight for places, especially in central midfield and on the wing has been tight which has seen him earn only a handful of caps for Bafana and miss out on being part of the squad that made the quarter-finals of Afcon in Egypt in July. He made the most of his chance on Sunday, putting in a Man-of-the-Match display and getting his first international goal at senior level – all in his hometown and in the presence of his family, including his proud mother.

“It was the greatest of feelings,” Phiri said. “I have been anticipating getting minutes in the national team. I feel that I have been doing exceptionally well where I have been playing. We have great players in our country, I have always respected that. I have always waited for my chance, and today it came. I did my level best, fortunately I got the goal that got us the win which is important.

“I just have to build on this and keep going forward.”

The next international break will be in March when Bafana will begin their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign. They will only resume their Afcon qualifiers in August with back-to-back matches against Sao Tome and Principe.

A lot can happen between now and March, but Phiri is hopeful that his performance was enough to put him in pole position for a starting berth in the next XI coach Molefi Ntseki will name next year.

“Each and every performance is important, especially in the national team because we get four or five call ups per year,” Phiri said. “We don’t have that much time together. So, club football has to keep you on that consistent level and when you get into the national team you have to do your best.

“Keep building on the performances that you have at club level, but right now, with the performance that I displayed on the pitch, I think that it’s going to be a key factor going into the selection for the Afcon and World Cup qualifiers. This performance was a booster for me, whether I am selected or not, I know that I can give my all whenever I am given a chance.”

Bonginkosi Ndadane