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Time to stand up

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Bafana No1 says it's up to senior players to show the new guys the way

Itumeleng Khune. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

In the vast emptiness of the Moses Mabhida Stadium, Itumeleng Khune cut a relaxed figure as his Bafana Bafana teammates limbered up in the background.

Khune is a talisman in the South African national team, a perennial crowd favourite whose saves and cut-out passes are met with roars as enthusiastic as fine efforts at goal. In every sense of the word then, he is a star in the team.

“It is up to us as senior players to stand up and show the new guys the way,” he said by way of explaining the importance of big performances tomorrow.

As a Kaizer Chiefs player, Khune has seen the best and the worst of the Moses Mabhida Stadium masses. He has seen 30 rounds of Mexican waves roar around the heaving amphitheatre, and he has also seen insults and objects hurled towards him and his mates as they scurried for the bowels of the dressing-room.

And yet, Durban is very close to his heart.

Every away game is a home game for a Chiefs player, not least one who has served with as much distinction as he has. More than that, Khune has a personal relationship in Durban, and he is turning out for club and country at a time of great difficulty in his own life, with his significant other having survived a horrific car accident in the Durban city centre recently.

Good distraction

Football is a good distraction, a comfort away from the realities of life.

For once, he says, South Africa’s No 1 has come into a Bafana camp with little to complain about in terms of his own health.

“It is the first time in a long time, and I am very happy about that.

“I have a little niggle from the SuperSport game, but I get it iced every night. I am fine and looking forward to a big game on Saturday.”

Khune also had a word for the younger players in the team, who will have to step into the considerable breach left by the likes of Hlompo Kekana, Themba Zwane, Lebo Mothiba and Bongani Zungu.

“It’s a great loss, but the players who have come in are quality, too. It is our job as senior players who have been here for a long time to help them, and we have already seen what someone like Vincent Pule can do.

“He created and he scored the winning goal in the friendly (behind closed doors against AmaZulu on Wednesday) and showed his quality,” Khune said.

Even from the very back, it remains one of Khune’s roles to be a playmaker, his trademark stinging passes often sparking counter-attacks.

He admits that a win over Libya is vital for momentum, for morale and for the team as a whole.

“It is a big game. Libya are a great team,” he warned.

That he is paying such respect to Libya is a good thing. In the past, little teams have given Bafana big headaches, and left their best-laid plans in tatters.

The sincerity in Khune’s voice, and the intensity of their only training session at the scene of their crunch African Cup of Nations qualifier tomorrow, suggests there will be no complacency this time.

South Africa need to win to consolidate their position on the table and start the journey to a continental tournament they would be loathe to miss.

For the likes of Khune, Dean Furman and a few others, there are fewer showpieces on the horizon.

The emptiness of yesterday will be countered by a raucous Saturday afternoon, and Khune and company want to be on the right side of the Durban emotion this time.

So, tomorrow matters. Immensely.