STANLEY NWABALI would do well to not ‘bite the hand that feeds’ him on Wednesday evening else he should not bother coming back, right? I have faith that Siviwe ‘Chippa’ Mpengesi will do what he is famous for and ‘pull the trigger’ on the Nigerian goalkeeper should he break our hearts.

After all, it’s been done before – a club terminating the contract of a player because he made a telling contribution in helping his home nation eliminate the country in which he plies his club trade from a major tournament.

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Nwabali, the Chippa United number one, has been in stellar form for the Super Eagles at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) taking place in the Ivory Coast. He will once again be expected to play a crucial role when the three-time CAF champions take on Bafana Bafana in the semifinal in Bouake.

Such has been the big man’s showing that the pre-tournament favourites have been breached just once in their five matches. Nwabali’s importance was illustrated by the panic that befell Nigeria when he had to leave the pitch injured in the last-16 encounter against Cameroon. But the Super Eagles’ medical team clearly worked their magic as the 27-year-old was back in goals to help steer the three-time champions past Angola into the penultimate stage of the biennial, continental tournament.

You can bet he will start against Bafana on Wednesday evening. After all, why would coach Jose Peseiro go with another player when he has what could well be described as ‘an enemy within’ given Nwabali’s knowledge of South African football.

The Portuguese tactician’s decision to make him his number one came about after he’d spent time at Chippa United watching the Chilli Boys’ goalkeeper at training and in matches. Peseiro was looking to remedy a poor last line of defence situation that was threatening to be an Achilles heel for the Super Eagles as they prepared to become champions of Africa for the first time in 11 years. And he seems to have succeeded.

BAFANA BAFANA FACE OFF AGAINST STANLEY NWABALI AT AFCON SEMIS

The discerning DSTV Premiership follower would have been surprised by Nwabali’s splendid performances for Nigeria though given he has not necessarily lit up the local stage.

 Last year, in the first half of the 2023/24 season, he played in 15 of Chippa’s 16 matches and let in 14 goals although he kept seven clean sheets in those. Not that it was his fault entirely, for the reality is that the Chilli Boys’ defence and that of the Super Eagles are like chalk and cheese.

Nwabali will, no doubt though, have insight into Bafana to not only share with his defence but also to use it to continue being the star goalkeeper he has been at the tournament.

Should he do that, Mpengesi must pull a Luciano Gaucci on Nwabali, right?

The goalkeeper would probably not be aware of this. He was – after all – just six years old back in 2002 when South Korea co-hosted the FIFA World Cup with Japan and reached the semifinal.

En route to that incredible feat, the Koreans beat Italy 2-1 in the round of 16 via a golden goal scored by Ahn Jung-hwan. At the time the player was on loan to Serie A side Peruggia and, in what was seen as retaliation, club owner Gaucci cancelled the player’s contract. He was reported as saying he has ‘no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football’.

Well, we all know that Chippa Mpengesi does not pay a salary to anyone (coaches in particular) who ruins his club’s progress, right? Now surely, he is a patriot who – like all of us – wants Bafana to reach the final and will thus not take kindly to anyone who stops them in that quest. And should that particular person be an employee of his, Bra Chippa will send him swelling the ranks of the unemployed, won’t he?

Hey Nwabali, they love you down in Gqeberha bhuti (brother) and have been delighted by your showing for Nigeria. And they are looking forward to having you back and pulling off similar heroics for the Chilli Boys so they can move up the table away from the relegation zone.

But on Wednesday night, do remember not to bite the hand that feeds you, okay?

By Matshelane Mamabolo