South Africa fans will look back on a mixed and muddled 2018, but the form of Lebo Mothiba can give all Bafana Bafana supporters hope of a renaissance next year.
Looking across Europe’s major leagues, it’s hard to find too many attackers who are outperforming the Racing Club de Strasbourg man.
He netted in the 2-2 draw against Stade Malherbe de Caen at the weekend, taking his tally up to seven goals in 14 league outings so far this term, eight including his strike at LOSC Lille before moving to Alsace.
Elite company for Lebo Mothiba of @RCSA:— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) December 10, 2018
🇨🇮 @NicolasPepe19 - 11 Goals
🇬🇦 Pierre-Emerick @Aubameyang7 - 10 ⚽️
🇪🇬 @MoSalah - 10 ⚽️
🇿🇦 Lebo Mothiba - 8 ⚽️
🇬🇳 @f_kamano - 8 ⚽️
🇹🇳 Wahbi Khazri - 8 ⚽️
via @OptaJean pic.twitter.com/Pp7Rcvf0Ug
Of the many African players in France, only Nicolas Pepe has more goals.
His tally also puts him into some fairly elite company.
Across Europe’s other top five divisions, only Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can better Mothiba’s return.
Considering he’s only just taking his first steps at Strasbourg, a fallen giant still finding their feet back in France’s top tier, Mothiba deserves immense credit for his recent form.
What’s been particularly impressive about the 22-year-old’s campaign so far—behind perhaps his adapting to life at the Stade de la Meinau—has been his unswerving accuracy in front of goal.
The attacker has seven goals for Strasbourg, but is only averaging 0.9 shots per goal per game.
Compare this with the other players around Mothiba in the Ligue 1 scoring charts.
To reach seven goals, Radamel Falcao is averaging 2.7 shots per match, Jonathan Bamba 1.4, Andy Delort 2.8 and Gaetan Laborde 2.5.
In fact, no player to have scored four goals or more averages a few shots per game as Mothiba.
It’s an exceptional efficiency of finishing, and as noted by Opta in early November, Mothiba’s first seven goals of the season came from only seven shots on target.
He may not make too many efforts on goal, but when he does. he makes them count.
His remarkable accuracy in France only serves to highlight the ridiculousness of Bafana Bafana’s 0-0 draw away at the lowly Seychelles was in 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying.
In a match that summed up the national side’s muddled 2018, Mothiba was one of several South Africans guilty of missing a series of gilt-edged chances as Stuart Baxter’s side’s Afcon hopes were dented.
He missed a fine chance from a decent Rama Mphahlele cross on 12 minutes, and then also hit the crossbar early in the second half after being played in by Dino Ndlovu.
However, that performance—bizarre as it was—ought not detract from the offensive quality Bafana now have at their disposal.
Rarely has one of the nation’s forwards been performing so effectively in a major European league, with the likes of Sibusiso Zuma, Tokelo Rantie and Siyabonga Nomvethe all failing to have the kind of impact that Mothiba is enjoying this term.
Perhaps one would have to go back to Benni McCarthy’s time at Blackburn Rovers to find a South Africa forward in such form in one of Europe’s top five divisions.
He has the kind of quality that can fire Bafana back to the upper echelon of Africa’s national teams, providing Baxter finds the right structure to get the best out of him.
It would certainly be a bitter disappointment if he’s not present at the Afcon 2019, although South Africa’s participation is now in jeopardy after that stalemate against the Seychelles.
Their future is still in their own hands, but they must beat Libya away in March to advance to the tournament.
If they can get back that tricky assignment, then hot-shot Mothiba has the quality to help Bafana make an impact once again at the continent’s grandest stage—potentially on home soil—next year.