With a little over a month until the Africa Cup of Nations begins, many South African football fans would have breathed a sigh of relief when Katlego Mphela started his first game this season following a six-month injury hiatus.
The PSL’s perennial goal-scorer returned from injury with a goal against Black Leopards, continuing Pitso Mosimane’s unbeaten start as Mamelodi Sundowns coach and underlining Mphela’s worth to the side.
However, Mphela is in a race to prove his fitness with a short time available for the forward. Gordon Igesund will only select 23 players for the Africa Cup of Nations who are able to meet the high standards of physical demands and Mphela is one of many players who are all in the same boat, including Thulani Serrero and Benni McCarthy.
Mphela did not earn a call-up into the national squad for the December 22nd clash against Malawi, with in-form Lehlonolho Majoro, Bernard Parker and Tokelo Rantie forming a trio of striking options for the friendly.
Mphela has three potential chances to prove his fitness before Bafana Bafana hosts their training camp on the 27th of December, where Gordon Igesund will assess the striker’s sharpness and ability to meet his stringent requirements.
Mphela showed his intentions when he told reporters, “Everyone wants to play in the Afcon. It is every player's dream. But that is not in my hands. All I have to do is go out there and score some goals. It's up to the national team coach whether he selects me or not."
His hunger for goals has been insatiable at times. The 28-year-old has netted 40 goals for the Brazilians in his last three seasons and his absence was certainly felt as Downs crashed down to the depths of the PSL relegation zone.
Mphela’s defining qualities set him apart from many strikers plying their trade in South Africa. The striker’s pace, movement and finishing ability is certainly unmatched by the majority of South African forwards. Where a player like Eleazar Rodgers may not read the game or spurn his chances, Mphela can finish and does so consistently.
In terms of his impact on the national game, Mphela has been one of South Africa’s most dependable players on the pitch, in a side known for its profligacy. A total of 18 goals in his last 29 starts for Bafana Bafana display his consistency.
Mphela can form a powerful partnership with joint league top-scorer Bernard Parker as the players complement each other’s games. Mphela enhances Parkers game as he can hold up the ball and allow the Chiefs striker to make incisive runs into the box.
Mphela’s nickname “Killer” refers to his goalscoring instincts, his ability to find the back of the net and his scintillating strike of the football. Fitness and form are his two obstacles to overcome, as he has already proven he can score goals for Bafana Bafana, now all he needs is to convince the national teams coaching unit to believe in him once again.