With Senegal talisman Sadio Manne back in the picture after making a quick recovery from injury, the Kazier Chiefs hero could be the answer to the hard to crack Teranga Lions backline.
A point for the West Africans could book them a place in Russia while a win at home and in the return three days later in Dakar will see the South Africans make a return to the World showpiece having last made an appearance as hosts in 2010 where they bombed out in the early stages – being the first host country to be knocked out in the group stages of a World Cup.
Baxter has made very few changes to the squad that revived their chances with a 3-1 victory over Burkina Faso, with the notable inclusion of the 33-year-old Kazier Chiefs midfielder whom he describes as the most influential player on the domestic front.
Tshabalala’s last national team appearance was South Africa’s memorable 1-0 win over former world champions Spain back in 2013. He was also on the bench when Brazil handed them a 5-0 drubbing at home a year later.
With next year’s world showpiece being Tshabalala’s last opportunity to play in a World Cup, the left footed player says qualifying for the World Cup would cap off what has been a memorable career but his first priority is to help the team win at home.
“Even after such a long time, it is still a big deal to be called to the national team. It is not something to be taken lightly bearing in mind what is at stake here. Two victories and we are through to the FIFA World Cup” says Tshabalala.
“I have been working hard at club level and it has paid off with a call up. Qualifying and playing in a World Cup would be a wonderful addition to my career but the team is more important to me and all my knowledge and experience must benefit the team before I can think of personal accolades.”
Meanwhile, Baxter’s preparations took a slight knock on Tuesday after Dutch-based playmaker Thulani Serero was left out of the squad for disciplinary reasons. Mamelodi Sundowns workhorse, Hlompho Kekana is also doubtful due to family commitments.
But the Englishman has stressed the importance of a positive psyche to his players ahead of Friday’s match.
“We need to remain positive and focused. I have asked the players to avoid being on their phones and social media because that can be a distraction to their mind sets. It is all or nothing and we need to ensure that all our energies are focused on positives and nothing else,” said Baxter.
“Can we beat Senegal? Absolutely, if we can go to Nigeria and beat them at home and beat Burkina Faso who played two very tight games against Senegal then we can give them a game. For as long as there is a mathematical chance, we will not give up,” he concluded.
The match is being replayed after FIFA annulled South Africa’s 2-1 win over Senegal at the same venue citing match manipulation.
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