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Confident Tau will be a handful

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Young talisman has the passion and skill to insoire his Bafana Bafana teammates to big things

GIANT OF A MAN: Bafana Bafana player Percy Tau practices with other players Sfiso Hlanti (left) and Thulani Serero (right) at the Moses Mabhida stadium ahead of their clash with Paraguay today. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo ANA

Bafana Bafana’s stuttering 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualification campaign hasn’t endeared the team to the public at large – but, at least, one light has continued to shine rather brightly: Percy Tau.

After a 0-0 draw with Seychelles last month, and a 1-1 draw with Nigeria at the weekend, the SA national football side needs a point in the final qualifier – away to Libya in March – to secure a spot at the continental showpiece event in Cameroon next year.

Despite the gloom of the current situation, the dynamic performances of Tau have provided some measure of cheer and consolation for the football faithful across the country.

Bafana are back in action when they host Paraguay in the Nelson Mandela Challenge Centenary celebrations at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban tonight (7pm) – and, while coach Stuart Baxter is likely to ring the changes to offer game time to a few fringe players, Tau will still be the main attacking threat.

The 24-year-old has certainly benefited from his overseas sojourn.

The former Mamelodi Sundowns forward has always been touted for big things.

Who can forget Tau’s sensational assist in February earlier this year? In a fixture against Cape Town City, he was all pace and verve as he sla-lomed his way beyond a few defenders to loop the ball over for Khama Billiat to hammer home.

Tau is also the PSL’s current Footballer of the Season, which is why he was able to land a high-profile transfer to Brighton and Hove Albion. The English Premiership club subsequently sent Tau on loan to Royal Union Saint-Gilloise in the Belgian Second Division, where the burgeoning forward has been in scintillating form.

More than that, every time Tau returns home for national duty, he is able to demonstrate just how his overseas adventure has made him a better, more confident, footballer. At the weekend, with Bafana 1-0 down to Nigeria, he produced yet another moment of individual magic: a delightful feint and a wicked drop of the shoulder bamboozled the Nigerian defence and Tau was in on goal; but, realising Lebo Mothiba was in a better position, he unselfishly teed the ball up for the striker to tap into an empty net.

In fact, even Nigeria’s German coach, Gernot Rohr, who works with some really talented forwards – like Odion Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi Ahmed Musa and Isaac Success – was extremely impressed with Tau.

“He is a wonderful player,” said Rohr of Tau. “I hope to see him in a big team in Europe. He has all the qualities, and he gave us a lot of problems.”

Tau has always been a good player, but he’s definitely improved his game even more over the last few months. The Second Division in Belgium will soon be too small for him – and, with a bigger stage and better challenges still to come in England, who knows how high and how far the South African can soar?

Furthermore, they always say the mark of a good footballer is not so much his own game, but also in how he is able to uplift and galvanise the players around him.

At Bafana, we’ve certainly seen evidence of this, especially in how Tau’s presence has brought the best out of Mothiba. The athletic Mothiba plays for Strasbourg in France’s top division – he has now netted four goals in just five appearances for the SA national team. City coach Benni McCarthy is still the country’s leading marksman, with 31 Bafana goals, but already there’s talk that, if anybody is going to break that record, it’s likely to be Mothiba.

And, if the 22-year-old is to do so, then he certainly has the right man alongside to assist him on the quest: the irrepressible Percy Tau.