Maritzburg United defender Siyanda Xulu will captain Bafana Bafana in the 2018 COSAFA CUP tournament, which kicked off on Sunday, 27 May.
But South Africa will only get the taste of the action this coming weekend (Sunday, 3 May) after they received a bye in the first round of the competition as one of the seeded teams.
Bafana Bafana will start the tournament in the quarterfinal stage when they face the winners of Group A, which has Madagascar, Mozambique, Comoros and Mozambique.
In the opening matches of the competition, Madagascar beat Mozambique 2-1, while Comoros and Seychelles played to a 1-1 draw at the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane.
Stuart Baxter’s men held their first training session on Sunday in preparation for the upcoming clash.
Xulu made his debut for the South Africa national team on 15 June 2012 in the match against Gabon, when he substituted Morgan Gould in the 80th minute.
SAFA Media sat down with the no-nonsense defender after the squad’s session to talk about his return, the captaincy and the tournament.
SAFA Media: Welcome back to Bafana Bafana Siyanda, happy to be back?
Siyanda Xulu: I was talking to my coach at my club and he was asking me how I was going to treat this camp, and I told him that me coming to this camp was just like pressing a reset button and I will treat it as my very first camp with the national team, so yes I am very happy to be back.
SM: When were you last at Bafana Bafana?
SX: My last game was under Gordon Igesund when we played against Brazil, and lost at home � it must be four years back (Bafana Bafana lost 5-0 at FNB Stadium in March 2014). Yes, I am excited to be back and I missed the national team � but then again it works hand in hand, if you do well for your club you will earn yourself a place in the national team. Which means I had to work hard at club level and now I am reaping the rewards.
SM: Despite the long absence though, you are one of the most experienced.
SX: I have been here for years now, under different coaches and it was quite a privilege working with them. I think that experience will help me in camp to lead the guys, it is the responsibility I have to take as the captain and I am very honoured.
SM: Did you expect that?
SX: It was a very huge surprise when the coach named me the captain. Coming back here is me saying to myself let me just learn new things from the other guys, let me reset my international career. It was me trying to refocus on my game, and the captaincy is not something I really expected.
SM: Just reward for a great season for you personally?
SX: Personally, it has been a great year, I can actually label this as my best season ever. When one looks back two seaons ago things were not looking that great, me coming back and fighting for my position at Maritzburg United, earning a Bafana Bafana call-up and also being named captain of the squad � and I am hoping for a good tournament.
SM: Captain of Bafana Bafana, what about at your club where your regular captain Bevan Fransman has just left?
SX: I think it is only a matter of time, that’s how positive I am to be captain at club level because anyone could see what I can do on the pitch, not just with playing but also with the organisation. The guys at the club also rely on my responsibilities, so I think it is only a matter of time because I believe in my abilities. Now is the time for me to show everyone that I am the right man for the job.
SM: Back at Bafana Bafana after a long absence, any difference since then?
SX: Things are much more different, coach Baxter is a very tactical person and this is going to help my game a lot, more so because we will have that relationship as the captain of the side and I am looking forward to it.
SM: Your thoughts on the 2018 COSAFA CUP?
SX: We have to work to hard and prepare well for the tournament. I can never assure you of what we can do as a team because we have only had one training session, but I believe in the boys. From the first session you could see the attitude and the willingness to work for one another. It is a good bunch of players, young and energetic, and that’s what you need. Most of us haven’t worked with coach Baxter and that is why we are looking forward to the camp, and from the little we have seen at training, it seems like it is going to be a very exciting camp.
SM: Hoping to see yourself in the next Bafana Bafana camp for the AFCON qualifiers?
SX: For sure, that is part of the plan. It is always a step forward looking to do well for your club so you can earn a Bafana Bafana call-up, and looking to play with any opportunity you get, so it is baby steps and something I have been looking forward to.
Source: South African Football Association