Itumeleng Khune has pointed to his tremendous international experience – playing in four major tournaments for Bafana Bafana – as a reason for his inclusion in the South African men’s Olympic team.
Khune was included as one of two overage players in the squad for the 2016 Rio Olympics‚ where South Africa meet hosts Brazil in Brasilia in their opening game on Thursday night (9pm SA time)‚ along with Kaizer Chiefs team-mate Mulomowandau Mathoho.
The inclusion of the former Bafana captain was criticised in areas‚ and seen as unfair on incumbent SA Under-23 goalkeeper Jody February‚ the hero of the team’s third-placed finish at the Caf U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal in November to qualify for Rio.
“I think when the lads look at me‚ they look at an experienced player. And a player who has played in competitive tournaments such as the Afcon‚” Khune said after his and Mathoho’s late arrival in Brazil late on Sunday night.
“I’ve been to two Afcons‚ one Confederations Cup and one World Cup‚ and my experience will help lift up the spirit of the guys‚ both on and off the field.”
Khune and Bafana centreback Mulomowandau Mathoho left late for Brasilia after playing crucial roles for Chiefs in their 2-0 preseason Black Label Cup win against Orlando Pirates on Saturday at a packed FNB Stadium.
Mathoho scored Amakhosi’s opener and Khune made late saves.
A third overage player who would have joined the Olympic team‚ Andile Jali‚ was prevented from doing so as his Belgian club‚ KV Oostende‚ would not release the central midfielder.
Khune said he arrived after a long flight to Brazil with swollen legs.
“The physio gave me a rub at the hotel and I woke up feeling better‚” the goalkeeper said.
“It’s great to be part of the national team‚ especially competing in the Olympics. We’re looking forward to the first game on Thursday night.
“I know that the boys have been working very hard‚ waiting for us to join them. We’re looking forward to the start of the tournament.”
The U-23s lost 3-1 to Brazil in a friendly match in Maceio on March.
The South Africans are hoping the tremendous pressure Brazil find themselves under as hosts of the Olympic tournament can count against the South American giants.
Brazil are desperate to recover from the humiliation of their 7-1 semifinal thrashing at the hands of Germany as hosts of the 2014 World Cup.
A first round exit from the Copa America in the USA last month has further added to the pressure on Brazil’s Olympic team.
South Africa are hoping for another shock of the Brazilians‚ as they managed with a 3-1 victory at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.