South Africa will lack injured 'hard men' Bongani Khumalo and Thanduyise Khuboni when they face defending champions Egypt in a crucial CAF Africa Nations Cup qualifier next month. Victory for Bafana Bafana on 5 June at the 73,000-seat Cairo Stadium would eliminate the Pharaohs from the race for places at the 2012 finals, which are being co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Egypt have won a the continental tournament a record seven times but are bottom of the Group G table with a solitary point behind South Africa (seven), Niger (six) and Sierra Leone (two) at the halfway stage. While the Pharaohs have won the last three finals in Cairo, Accra and Luanda, former champions South Africa did not even qualify for the 2008 and 2010 tournaments.
Centre-back Khumalo is recovering from a long-term injury sustained when playing for English second-tier club Preston, to whom he was lent by Premiership outfit Tottenham Hotspur. Swaziland-born Khumalo joined Spurs early this year after impressing during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ hosted by South Africa and when helping unfashionable SuperSport United win a record-equalling three league titles in a row.
Defensive midfielder Khuboni from Golden Arrows of Durban is a more recent injury casualty, depriving Bafana Bafana of steel that is going to be in great demand against the desperate Egyptians.
Happier news for coach Pitso Mosimane is that first-choice left-back Tsepo Masilela of Israeli club Maccabi Hafia has fully recovery from an injury that ruled him out of a 1-0 victory over Egypt in Johannesburg two months ago.
Mosimane, who succeeded veteran Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira after South Africa made a first round exit from last year's FIFA World Cup, has no illusions about the task awaiting his side in the Egyptian capital.
"We are going to their stable and they know nothing less than victory will keep their hopes alive of making the finals. I am expecting a very difficult match with more aggression from our rivals and higher stress levels for us. However, I am confident the squad will be able to absorb all of this in a match that will require a lot of brain power and a high level of tactical discipline."
Sierra Leone host Niger the same weekend in a west Africa derby and need maximum points to get back into the reckoning with only group winners sure of places at the 16-team African football showcase next January and February.
South Africa squad:
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs), Mbongeni Mzimela (AmaZulu), Wayne Sandilands (Mamelodi Sundowns)
Defenders: Siyabonga Sangweni and Mzivukile Tom (Golden Arrows), Bevan Fransman (Hapoel Tel Aviv/ISR), Siboniso Gaxa (Lierse/BEL), Morgan Gould (SuperSport Utd), Happy Jele (Orlando Pirates), Tsepo Masilela (Maccabi Haifa/ISR), Anele Ngcongca (Racing Genk/BEL)
Midfielders: Andile Jali and Tlou Segolela (Pirates), Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Siphiwe Tshabalala (Chiefs), George Maluleka and Thulani Serero (Ajax Cape Town), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Fulham/ENG), Hlompho Kekana (Bloemfontein Celtic), Steven Pienaar (Tottenham/ENG, capt)
Forwards: Katlego Mphela (Sundowns), Bernard Parker (Twente/NED), Davide Somma (Leeds Utd/ENG)