DURBAN – Innocent Maela has been presented with a perfect opportunity to show that he is capable of commanding a place in the Bafana Bafana set-up following the absence of regular Sifiso Hlanti who has made the left-back position his own.
The Orlando Pirates defender, however, says he doesn’t feel any pressure on his shoulders ahead of Bafana’s Nelson Mandela Challenge match against Mali at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Sunday (3.30pm kickoff).
Hlanti has been on top of his game at left-back for the national team which has made it difficult for Maela to crack into the starting line-up, but Wits defender Hlanti will miss Sunday’s match due to injury.
Filling Hlanti’s boots is not the only challenge that is facing Maela. The Witbank-born defender will be out to emulate his brother, Tsepo Masilela who represented South Africa with flying colours during his time with Bafana. Ironically, Masilela also played as a left-back when he was a regular for Bafana.
“For me, it doesn’t matter who is here and who is not here. I want to give my all and, hopefully I will get an opportunity to play. For every player that is given a chance turn out for the national team, the responsibility is always huge. It is the same with me,” Maele explained.
Hlanti earned admirers following his exploit against Egypt where he kept Liverpool talisman, Mohamed Salah, quite for the whole game. His no-nonsense approach made it impossible for Egypt’s potent attack to create meaningful scoring opportunities at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.
Maela will, therefore, have to be at his best on Sunday to make an impression on new coach, Molefi Ntseki, ahead of the Afcon 2021 qualifiers next month. Maela’s performance could also go a long way in shaping his international career and maybe he can even emulate his brother, Masilela.
“For me there’s no pressure at all because what Tsepo achieved was for himself. What I will achieve in my career is for me. I can’t live his life. He also can’t live mine. Obviously, what he achieved serves as an inspiration for me. I’m currently enjoying every moment of my career,” Maela added.
Masilela earned 51 caps in a successful international career that saw him play at the 2010 World Cup and two Afcons (in 2008 in Ghana and 2013 in SA).
Maela has been campaigning in the Caf Champions League with his club, Pirates, for the past two seasons so he won’t be found wanting when it comes to experience.
“Playing in the Champions League has really helped me because you get to experience the physicality that most opponents bring to the game,” Maele said.
Bafana trained for the first time in Port Elizabeth yesterday.
“It is always an honour to represent my country. I’ve been here for a while but the excitement is always there,” said Maela.
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