South Africa’s Bongani Khumalo
South Africa are rebounding from captain Steven Pienaar’s decision to quit international football, his successor Bongani Khumalo said on the eve of a friendly against Poland.
“With Steven being in previous camps and a good friend of mine, he’s someone that I always used to talk to and get advice from,” Khumalo told journalists after a training session at Warsaw’s National Stadium.
Everton midfielder Pienaar’s announcement earlier this month that he was bowing out overshadowed the naming of the squad for Friday’s friendly against the Poles and next Tuesday’s trip to Kenya.
The slight 30-year-old — the only South African featuring regularly in a major European league — said he could no longer cope with the physical demands of playing for club and country.
He succeeded Aaron Mokoena as skipper after the 2010 World Cup on home turf and had limited success in the role.
“He’s been in Europe for many years and has great experience in European and international football. All the players and I have great respect for him. A quality player like that will be missed in any team,” said Khumalo.
“But in saying that, we have to move on. And I believe there are players who are ready to take up the opportunity that’s been left by him.”
Greek club PAOK’s defender Khumalo is one of the few other South Africa internationals who ply their trade abroad.
The Poland and Kenya matches are crucial for South Africa as they count down to the Africa Cup of Nations. As hosts of the January 19-February 10 showcase, their automatic berth means they only have friendlies to get ready.
Poland found themselves in a similar position as co-hosts of June’s European Championships with neighbouring Ukraine.
South Africa will be hoping that is not a bad omen — the Poles crashed out of the tournament in the group stage.
Under new coach Gordon Igesund, South Africa started their preparations last month by losing 1-0 in Brazil and beating Mozambique 2-0 at home.
“This game for us is a good test,” said Igesund.
“We don’t often get an opportunity to play against European teams, and it’s a different variety altogether.
“I’ve brought 26 players. We are trying to prepare a bigger team for the Africa Cup of Nations and I’ve used these two games, against Brazil and Mozambique, and this game and the game against Kenya to look at as many players as possible.
“I need to get the final squad organised as quick as I can. Three months is a very short period to work with a team,” he stressed.
For Poland, meanwhile, the South Africa match is a warm-up for Tuesday’s crunch 2014 World Cup qualifier against England in Warsaw.