Bafana Bafana captain Aaron Mokoena
Posted: 30 May 2010 Time: 9:29 am
When Bafana Bafana captain Aaron Mokoena leads his team onto the field against Guatamala in a friendly international match on Monday, he will be entering into the record books.
Mokoena will be making his 100th appearance for the national team – a feat not achieved before. It has been a long road for him and it took him eleven years to reach this milestone. He shares the journey: Q: How does it feel reaching this milestone, something that has never been done before? A: I am very privileged and I feel honoured to be the first player to reach a milestone of hundred caps. It means a lot to me. Words can never describe how I feel about getting to where I am now. Q: Do you remember your first cap? A: Yes, it was against Botswana in Gaborone (Cosafa Castle Cup, 20 February, 1999) playing at the back with Matthew Booth and Trott Moloto was the coach at the time. We were playing away from home and it was one of the games where I really enjoyed myself. I will never forget that match, more so because we won two one (2-1). Q: Any difference between your first cap back then and now as a player? A: In my first cap I was surrounded by players who I had to learn a lot from, who encouraged me and took the responsibility of the team – but at the moment the roles have been reversed, the responsibilities now lies with me and the other senior players. We have to guide and groom the youngsters much like we were assisted when we started in the national team. I have also gained lots of experience along the way and what I have learnt I have to impart to the other players. Q: Was there any pressure getting to 100? A: Playing for Bafana Bafana, wearing that national team jersey is just pressure on its own and we have to live with it. Remember we are representing thousands of footballers who did not make the team, as well as millions of South Africans who are supporters of the team. But at the same time it’s also enjoyable pressure. Q: When did you realize you were going to reach 100 caps? A: I think the game we played against Nigeria in Abuja where I earned my 70th cap, and I told myself that if I work hard and continue with my commitment I can make a 100 caps. But at the same time I am not one to count caps, it’s only recently when people started talking about it that I also seriously thought about it. Q: What are the attributes for reaching this milestone 100 caps? A: I think desire, commitment, hard work, discipline and talent. But also note that it does not take talent only for a person to be successful in life, especially in football. So for me those five attributes played a very big role for me to be where I am today both at club level and in the national team. Q: Who do you model your game around? A: It has to be Lucas Radebe (former Bafana Bafana captain), he has been the person I have been looking up to since I started playing football. And when I came to the national team it was a dream of mine to play alongside him and I achieved that goal. But what he has achieved for this country words can’t describe. He was a good ambassador on and off the football field and really raised the South African flag by going abroad and captaining a foreign club (Leeds United in England). He really inspired me. I have also done the same, captaining clubs in England and being captain of the national team. Q: How far do you think you can go with your caps? A: At the moment I am not even concerned about that, but what I can tell you is that I am still enjoying my football, I still enjoy representing my country and I will take whatever comes. I know someday I will have to call it a day, but right now my focus is on the World Cup. Q: What are your thoughts to captain a team at the World Cup? A: I am not going to lie and say I don’t think about it everyday. To be honest it’s a dream come true and I have never imagined that someday it will happen. I have been to a few Africa Cup of Nations tournaments as captain but nothing beats this one, it’s something I will cherish for as long as I live. But at the same time let’s not forget it’s not about the captain only – football is a team sport, there are ten other players with me on the field and some more on the bench – what I mean by that is that the biggest honour is representing your country, then being captain is an added bonus. Q: What is your most memorable game in a Bafana Bafana jersey? A: As you know when we play our neighbours on the continent they always want to beat Bafana Bafana, but the one match that stands out was against Ivory Coast in Polokwane (22 June 2003). We needed a win to qualify for the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia. We faced a red-hot Didier Drogba on the day but still we managed to beat them two one (2-1). It was a very difficult match, a very tense affair but in the end we won. Q: Who has been the toughest opponent you have faced? A: I would probably give it to Raul (former captain of Spain) for his sterling play at the 2002 World Cup in Korea, we lost that match 2-3. He made it difficult for us on that day. And perhaps because of that result we were not able to proceed to the second round. Q: Who is the most exciting player you have shared the field with at national team level? A: I think Puyol (current defender and captain of Spain), for me he really stands out above the best. He leads by example and has done well at club level for Barcelona where he has won many titles but still every time he plays he is still hungry. So he is one of the players I had an opportunity to share the field with and I really admire him a lot. Q: Who inspires you in life? A: I can say it’s my mother and Jomo Sono (former Bafana Bafana coach). My mother because she played a very big role in my life. I went through difficult times and she was always there for me, she stood by me and protected me as the last born at home. Sono because he groomed me into a footballer that I am today, he introduced me to international football when he took me as a youngster to the African Cup of Nations Tournament in Burkina Faso in 1998. I did not get to play, but it was worthwhile experience. So I would like to dedicate my 100 caps to both my mother and Jomo Sono. Q: How far do you think Bafana Bafana can go in the World Cup? A: We are all aware that we are in a tough group, playing against teams that are very experienced and two of them have won the World Cup before (Uruguay and France) but our target is to move from the group stages and proceed as far as we can. We have to take each game as it comes and not put ourselves under unnecessary pressure and then the sky is the limit. Q: Your second World Cup, will your experience help this time around? A: At this level you need experience, and having played at the 2002 World Cup tournament in Korea and Japan I can safely say I came back with loads of experience because as a player you learn and acquire experience everyday. So my experience should come in handy but as I said before it’s not only about me, it’s about the team as we have very experienced players who are playing in top flight football and have won titles at their various clubs. So their experience will be valuable too. Q: Captain of the national team, 100 caps and playing for your country – what is more valuable to you? A: They all mean a lot to me, but the truth is they are all intertwined – to get to one you have to achieve the other. First you represent your country, then one of the two will follow, and sometimes it’s both as is the case with me. But representing your country has to be the highest honor for any footballer. Q: Message to the millions of supporters. A: This is the first World Cup on the African continent, we as South Africans are privileged to represent the continent by hosting this big event, we have to get together and show the world that South Africa has what it takes in terms of support and delivering a world class event. It’s a perfect opportunity for South Africa to sell herself to the world. Q: Message to your teammates in the national team. A: What I can say to them is that we are talented and really honoured to be part and parcel of the team that will be representing the country at the highest level. There are many players out there who want to be in this position, so we need to grab this chance with two hands and make sure that we go out there and give it our all. We are the ones with the power to influence the results, we have the team spirit and the desire to do so, and with a little bit of sacrifice we can do something. I hope the players can go out there to show the country we can do it. Mokoena leads a team of elite players with 50 caps or more. Players with 50 caps or more: 99 - Aaron Mokoena 79 - Benni McCarthy 77 – Siyabonga Nomvete 74 - Shaun Bartlett 73 - John Moshoeu 72 - Delron Buckley 70 - Lucas Radebe 67 - Andre Arendse 67 - Sibusiso Zuma 66 - Helman Mkhalele 62 - Mark Fish 58 - Phil Masinga 56 – MacBeth Sibaya 52 - Neil Tovey 50 - Doctor Khumalo