It’s been close to two years since midfielder Bongani Zungu last donned the Bafana Bafana jersey.
He last played in a World Cup qualifier against Angola in November 2015 in Durban where he was replaced by Kamohelo Mokotjo in the 1-0 victory.
Injury and moving to a new club in Portugal left him on the sidelines but now he is back and eager to do the business.
Zungu is part of the 25-man Bafana Bafana squad that has been selected to face Nigeria in the first match of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
The clash will be played on Saturday, 10 June 2017 at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo State, Nigeria.
Kickoff is at 17h00 local time (18h00 SA Time).
SAFA Media caught up with Zungu at their based camp.
Matlhomola Morake: Bongani welcome back to Bafana Bafana, it’s been a while since you were last here.
Bongani Zungu: Thank you, it’s awesome to be here and it feels good to be back. The camp is nice and I am loving every minute of it.
MM: We are playing Nigeria, what are our chances?
BZ: Fooball is about competition, we have the quality in the team and I believe we stand a good chance to beat them because they haven’t been having a good run in recent times. Yes they have individuals who play in top teams abroad but we have more of a team, a bunch of hard-working young boys and we are looking forward to it.
MM: You have be gone so long and now there is a new coach in place…
BZ: I guess it’s the nature of the game, different coaches and different players, but the objective remains the same. We are all here to do a job and we must do it to the best of our abilities. It doesn’t matter who the coach is, as long as we have guys who can work hard and make every training session interesting and we win games. So I am really looking forward to this match.
MM: Great bunch of players you have here, that means competition for places is going to be stiff
BZ: For sure, and that’s the beauty of football – everywhere you go you find competition and that’s good because it helps players improve. Competition is good, I just want us to go there and win, whoever the coach decides to put in the starting 11 they must just make sure to grab the opportunity with both hands and we win as a team.
MM: Crucial period for Bafana Bafana with AFCON and World Cup qualifiers, what are our chances?
BZ: Very important time this – but we have the quality in our team, we have the players to do the business and we have the energy to do well. We are playing our own unique footbal, we have a lot of tactically and technically gifted players that can do damage to any team, but we just have to have the belief, we have to stick to our plan. I have seen since my arrival here in camp that the coach has a plan and that rubs off on the players. If we stick to that plan I think we can beat anyone. I just hope the fans can rally behind the team and give us that oomph to perform because if our confidence is high, we can make things happen.
MM: Playing abroad with the likes of Lebogang Phiri, Keagan Dolly and Kermit Erasmus, how does that help South African football, and in particular Bafana Bafana?
BZ: When you play that side you get to improve as a player, you play in hostile stadiums and that builds character. Also if you look at it, football abroad is a step or two ahead and if we can get more players overseas it will help South African football tremendously because with the experience we get that side we will be able to do more for our country. I just hope we can have more numbers and get to bigger clubs where we will also play Champions League and that will be good for our nation because that’s what we need. If you check the likes of Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana they have a lot of players in the highest league abroad and that helps their game, it helps when it comes to competitions. It’s a step forward if we can get there most of us.
MM: Personnaly, it has been a good run for you at your new club
BZ: It’s going very well, its been very great indeed. But things started very bad. I had an injury, which led me to gaining a lot of weight but credit must go to the club because they gave me necessary support – they helped with my weight and mental strength because at that time I was going through a lot, asking myself a lot of questions. I had a lot of negativity, so I really owe them a lot. Things changed drastically when I started playing and I just stamped my authority and my confidence grew with every game I played, the coach gave me a lot of confidence and the teammates were very supportive. It was a tough journey but worth it, and I am just happy that I was at the right place at the right time – the team is now in the Europa League, and I have been a key player for the club, so I am just in a very good space at the moment which is important for every footballer to perform well.
MM: When you left Sundowns you wanted to improve and challenge yourself – is that what got in Portugal?
BZ: It is exactly what I expected, and more. Football that side is different than in South Africa – it is quicker and players are technically and tactically good. They give the right pass at the right time. The vibe at the stadium is just awesome and it is always full, so with that you gain your confidence and you get to improve because you play with good players.
MM: Have you seen any improvement since you left Sundowns?
BZ: A lot! I believe I am more matured now, the coaching is different from what I got here and I must say this – if there is any person I must credit for my doing well in Portugal is coach Pitso Mosimane. The coaching that he gave us at Sundowns prepared me mentally for Europe. Most of the things he coached back then at Sundowns I found them here, so I was in familiar territory thanks to coach Pitso, so a lot of credit must go to him. I believe he is way ahead of his time because thanks to him I was not lost with the coaching I got in Portugal. And he might not know this – he has really done a lot for me as a person and as a player, I owe him a lot of gratitude. But I have improved a lot since I got to Portugal. They have a lot of big name players and playing in front of about 70-thousand fans against Benfica, as a player you get to grow.I sometimes sit and watch my previous games at Sundowns, and I now see a quicker Bongani, tactically more aware, the technique has immproved a lot and my heading abilities are way better than before.
MM: When you joined Vitoria Guimaraes, did you expect to be at this level that you are right now?
BZ: Not really, because when I got there I was going through a lot. My first mission was to get past the injury and then wait and see what the rest of the season had in store for me, I just didn’t think I would be where I am today. The truth is I was not fit when I went there and that played a lot on my mind. God is great and here I am, but credit must go to the club for the patience they had with me, the support they gave me – they really took good care of me. But I also give myself credit because I really had to push hard to be where I am. I worked very hard to regain my fitness, went to the gym twice a day, never missed a session with the physiotherapist – somedays I worked so hard that I ended up vomitting during a workout, that’s how hard I pushed myself. The guy who was my trainer could not speak English, so all he did was show me the exercise and watch me do it. It was painful but at the end of the day it was worth it, it was a great sacrifice and I benefitted a lot.
MM: While recovering, that break gave you a different perspective about your career…
BZ: Very much so, it made me see everything. I had the chance to see how the team plays as I watched about four league games and I was able to see the strenghts and the weaknesses of the team. I could watch the players I was competing against in the same position – even though we are teammates I wanted to play just as badly as they did. I could see what made them tick. I had to improve on that and work on being better – my strategy is that before I go to a club or when I sign for a new team I try to look at the player I will be competiting against and I try to do what they can’t so I can offer the coach something different, and that is exactly what I did at Sundowns. Right now the fans in Portugal see a different player in me, a midfielder they hardly get because I bring a different dimension to the club and that helps me a lot.
MM: Reached the Taca de Portugal Final in your first season, but narrowly lost to Benfica…
BZ: It was very painful to lose that match, we had worked so hard ahead of that final. Remember we lost to Benfica 5-0 in our previous clash because we didn’t get our tactics right on the day – they just scored quickly and ran all over us. Ahead of the final we were doing a lot of video analysis, spent about four hours on the pitch, Monday to Friday, to prepare for this final. The amount of hard work we put in was amazing, that is why in the first half we were able to compete well with them, and frustrate them at times. Unfortunately one of our players got injured and the coach introduced another central midfielder and I had to have more of a free role, I think that dismantled us a bit. We worked on this strategy for a long time and the injury just disorganised us – they are a smart team with intelligent players and they scored two quick goals. I was happy with my goal as it came at the right time. But the truth is I wanted a win badly, as it would have been great for us and the history of Guimares.
MM: You have also scored a couple goals for your club…
BZ: Yes, and it shows a lot of improvement on my side, and shows that I have now matured – by the way I have missed a lot of goals too and I am working on it. But just being able to get to the final third is something I hardly did at Sundowns. In Portugal I am doing it so well and regularly, and always creating problems for the opponents. When I arrived at Guimares, the coach told me that he wanted to make a box to box player, and I am offering exactly that because I have the energy to do so. I am grateful that he believed in me and gave me opportunities to play and get to experience playing against big teams like Sporting Lisbon, Benfica, Porto.
MM: Lot of talk that after just one season you might be leaving Guimares…
BZ: I have a lot of love for Guimares, it would not be easy for me to leave. They took me from nothing to make me a big player that I am today and that is why when we lost the final against Benfica we all burst into tears because we love that team, on the other hand for me it was tears of having lost the final and that I might be leaving. There has been a lot of talk about my departure from the club, it shows that if you know what you want and work hard, things happen. It’s nice to hear my name being linked to several clubs in Europe, it shows that I am doing something right. But just to answer your question, Guimares knows my future, they know what’s best for me and my focus was getting to play for the club and finishing the season strong – whatever happens now only God knows. Right now I have shifted focus and preparing for Nigeria, anything else will come afterwards.
MM: I hear you , but given a chance to choose your destination right now, where would you go?
BZ: I have always wanted to play Champions League, if a team comes with a good offer and they play Champions League then what more do I want. I have always been a fighter and a winner so that’s where I will go. That’s always been my dream – and my family will tell you so. Just the other day my brother reminded me that I had said one day I will play in the Europa League, now that I have achieved that I want to move up so I can fulfill my dream of Champions League – and that’s a personal goal I will work hard to reach.
Born: 9 October 1992
Club: Vitoria Guimaraes (Portugal)
National team debut: v Burkina Faso, friendly international, 17 August, 2013
Last game played: v Angola, World Cup qualifier, 17 November, 2015
First goal scored: v Swaziland, friendly international, 15 November, 2013
Last goal scored: v Cote d’Ivoire, international friendly, 30 November, 2014
Caps per club: Mamelodi Sundowns 20
First came to prominence at Dynamos in the National First Division … was signed by University of Pretoria for the 2012/13 PSL season … after a slow start was a fixture in the side for the second half of the season and made a massive impression … signed by Mamelodi Sundowns in July 2013 … born in Nigel.
National Team Games Statistics
|1.||17.08.13Johannesburg||v Burkina Faso 2-0||friendly international||replaced by Manyama in the 56thminute|
|2.||07.09.13Durban||v Botswana 4-1||World Cup Group A qualifier||came on for Erasmus in the 58thminute|
|3.||10.09.13Orlando||v Zimbabwe 1-2||friendly international||replaced by Tshabalala in the 65thminute|
|4.||11.10.13Agadir||v Morocco 1-1||friendly international||came on for S Vilakazi at halftime|
|5.||15.11.13Lobamba||v Swaziland 3-0||friendly international||came on for Chabangu at halftime; scored|
|6.||19.11.13Johannesburg||v Spain 1-0||friendly international||came on for Manyisa in the 62ndminute|
|7.||05.03.14Jo’burg||v Brazil 0-5||friendly international||came on for Jali in the 55th minute|
|8.||26.05.14Sydney||v Australia 1-1||friendly international||came on for Phala at halftime|
|9.||30.05.14Auckland||v New Zealand 0-0||friendly international||came on for Phala in the 66thminute|
|10.||30.11.14Nelspruit||v Cote d’Ivoire 2-0||friendly international||scored|
|11.||14.01.15Libreville||v Mali 3-0||friendly international||came on for Ndulula in the 88thminute|
|12.||25.03.15Mbabane||v Swaziland 3-1||friendly international||came on for Alexander in the 83rdminute|
|13.||29.03.15Nelspruit||v Nigeria 1-1||friendly international||scored|
|14.||16.06.15Cape Town||v Angola 2-1||friendly international|
|15.||05.09.15Nouakchott||v Mauritania 1-3||African Nations Cup qualifier||came on for Furman in the 63rdminute|
|16.||08.09.15Orlando||v Senegal 1-0||friendly international|
|17.||08.10.15Liberia||v Costa Rica 1-0||friendly international|
|18.||13.10.15San Pedro Sula||v Honduras 1-1||friendly international||came on for Patosi in the 65thminute|
|19.||13.11.15Benguela||v Angola 3-1||World Cup qualifier||replaced by Furman in the 58thminute|
|20.||17.11.15Durban||v Angola 1-0||World Cup qualifier||replaced by Mokotjo in the 71stminute|
Sourced from the SAFA website.