KATLEGO Mphela wants to be Bafana Bafana's starting striker. The 28-year-old Sundowns star hinted yesterday that, as the country's most experienced hitman in their Africa Cup of Nations soccer squad, coach Gordon Igesund should consider starting him against Angola in Durban tomorrow.
Mphela has been rusty after a return from a long- term injury just seven weeks before the tournament, and came off the bench in Bafana's unconvincing 0-0 opening draw against Cape Verde Islands at the National Stadium on Saturday.
However, Bafana's third-top all- time scorer has a reputation for producing in front of goal regardless of form and, with 23 goals in 47 games, has a prolific strike rate at international level.
He said he believed his fitness was acceptable to make 90 minutes against Angola. "I've played a couple of friendlies already and on Saturday night came in and played about 20 minutes, so my fitness is OK.
"If I'm picked to start against Angola I think I'm more than ready. I'm prepared to step up to the plate and try to get what we need – goals.
"We've got quality strikers in the squad, but statistically I've played in these tournaments before and I'm the more experienced striker in this team, so I think I can make the difference.
"It's always a responsibility for me to get goals, especially for an expectant country like South Africa. And now that the Afcon is here, and especially having not played well in our first game, we want to do well in our second game. Hopefully I'll get some goals for the team to go through to the next round."
Mphela was a surprise choice in Joel Santana's Confederations Cup squad in 2009, having hardly played for Sundowns. He came off the bench and scored twice, including a last-gasp free kick that was nominated for Fifa's Goal of the Year to send the third place playoff against Spain into extra time. He also scored in the 2-1 win over France in the 2010 World Cup.
Mphela said Bafana would need heart if they were to beat Angola, an experienced and dangerous combination who are spearheaded by international class striker Manucho.
The Mamelodi Sundowns striker drew on the example of especially the West African teams at this Afcon, who he said played with spirit and a never-say-die attitude that Bafana could emulate. "At international level you need to keep playing and you must have a big heart," Mphela pointed out. "The teams playing in this tournament are experienced and they've got that heart.
"I saw the game yesterday, where Niger kept going and Mali fought to get that goal and you can see these guys have got a big heart and a strong mentality. That's what we need to have a chance against Angola."
The striker believes SA can create chances to score if they settle into a better rhythm than against Cape Verde, where Bafana failed to put their foot on the ball and to find their passing game. "The last game we didn't create enough chances, but their were two friendlies we played before the opening match [against Norway and Algeria] where we did create chances.
"As the coach said, the players were a bit frozen. I think going to the next game we'll create chances."
After Angola, Bafana meet Morocco, also at Moses Mabhida, on Sunday. Morocco and Angola also drew 0-0 in Saturday's late match, so all the Group A teams are level on a point.