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Clean sheets motivate hosts


“I think we should focus on ourselves for now because four clean sheets in the same number of games is a really good record,”

BAFANAS BRICK WALL: Itumeleng Khune of South Africa during the 2019 African Cup of Nations Qualifier South Africa training session at Steyn City School, Johannesburg yesterday. Picture: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix

IT is the four successive clean sheets for Bafana in their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign that goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune draws positives from, and not the fact that Nigeria – Saturday’s opponents – are without top scorer Odion Ighalo.

Not only are coach Stuart Baxter’s men unbeaten in Group E, but they are still yet to taste defeat ahead of hosting the Super Eagles – who lead by a single point – this weekend.

A lot has been made about Nigeria’s potent attacking line led by Ighalo, who has so far bagged six goals to help his country shoot to the top of the group.

But with the Chinese-based forward now injured and having been withdrawn, Khune chose to rather boast about Bafana’s record of clean sheets instead of showing relief that he would not be facing Ighalo in this month’s qualifier.

“I think we should focus on ourselves for now because four clean sheets in the same number of games is a really good record,” Khune said.

“We are unbeaten, haven’t conceded a single goal and we have scored eight goals in those matches. So those are the things we look at, but we keep telling ourselves that we must keep our feet firmly on the ground and keep looking for more.”

Khune will lead a back four that has seen changing faces since South Africa beat Nigeria 2-0 during the opening round of the Afcon qualifiers in June last year. At the Godswill Akpabio Stadium at the time, Baxter had captain Thulani Hlatshwayo partnered with Erick Mathoho in central defence while Ramahlwe Mphahlele and Tebogo Langerman occupied the right and fullback positions respectively.

Both Mathoho and Langerman have dropped out of the picture since, but this isn’t something Khune is losing sleep over.

He’s become used to it at club level where Kaizer Chiefs coach Giovanni Solinas has been continuously criticised for chopping an changing his defenders.

“We are still looking at marshaling our defence the way we want to. We are not focusing too much on who they are bringing – whether Ighalo is there or not. We are preparing for Nigeria.

“I actually think I am the luckiest goalkeeper alive. And I say this because I pay for club (Kaizer Chiefs) and country. We know injuries are part of the game, some players will be off-form, while others are asked to step up. My job is to communicate and organise my defence well. I think with the current run of clean sheets everyone has to be given credit and I have also been able to use my experience to help.”