JOHANNESBURG – Wearing the captain’s armband for the first time in his career, Andile Jali said the privilege was made even sweeter after Bafana Bafana enjoyed a 3-0 victory over Mali in Libreville, Gabon, on Wednesday.
“It was a great honour for me to captain my country for the first time ever — in fact to be captain in any match. What makes me happier is that the results were positive,” Jali said.
“It was a huge surprise for me but I said I will don the armband because the coach chose me amongst 23 players in the squad to lead the country.”
The 24-year-old made his 23rd appearance for his country in the final preparation match before the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament starts in Equatorial Guinea on Saturday.
Since the return of head coach Shakes Mashaba in August last year, Jali had played in all the Afcon qualifiers together with Dean Furman.
After the death of Bafana goalkeeper and captain Senzo Meyiwa, Mashaba had so far chosen to rotate the wearing of the captain’s armband — an idea which Jali said kept the players hungry.
“In this team we are all the same, the only difference is that only one person has the armband but we are all on the same level,” Jali said.
“We are all leaders on the field which makes the job of the captain of the day much easier.
“We are all friends in this team; that is the difference with the Bafana Bafana of then and now. We treat each other in the same way — no one is better than the others, just that only 11 can start which makes us all hungry to play.
He said Mashaba was never intimidated by the opposition and had taught the players to believe in their own abilities, regardless of what the other sides had to offer.
The former Orlando Pirates midfielder said his experience in the CAF Champions League had helped him grow and he gained valuable experience playing on the continent.
“The CAF club competition helped most of us a great deal. But even before then some of us were involved in the junior national teams and we gained a lot of experience which we are able to use at senior level.
“Because of that, we know what to expect. The experience of our coaching staff is also vital as they are helping us prepare well.”
Playing for KV Oostende in Belgium, Jali said his role for the national team was less restricted than it was for the Ostend side but he was content to remain there for the time being.
“I am not worried about selling myself in this tournament because I am very happy where I am playing. We are all here to do a job for our country.
“Even though I play the same position in Belgium, I don’t move a lot, I never go past the centre. I am a real holding midfielder. But in South Africa I am very mobile with a lot of freedom to even go for goal. I enjoy both systems though. At Bafana Bafana I play the same way I used to play at Orlando Pirates.”
Bafana Bafana were ready for Afcon, Jali said and the warm-up games against Cameroon and Mali would hold them in good stead.
“The way we played against Mali showed that we can hold our own against the big guns. The conditions were difficult out there but we still managed to get a great win and that augurs well for the tournament as we know what to expect.
“I believe Cameroon and Algeria play the same attacking game, so that Cameroon match was a masterstroke for us to play in preparation for our opening match against the North Africans.”
South Africa face Algeria in their opening Afcon game in Mongomo on Monday.
“We are not here to prove a point, just to show that South Africa can also play and has a lot of talent,” Jali said.
“We go there with confidence that we will be successful and we are very positive.” -Â Sapa