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Bafana striker Lebo Mothiba keeping Neymar and Kylian Mbappe firmly in his sights

14 November 2018 - 14:05 By Marc Strydom
Strasbourg's South African forward Lebo Mothiba (R) vies with Nantes' US defender Matt Miazga during the French L1 football match between Strasbourg (RCSA) and Nantes (FCN) on September 1, 2018, at the Meinau Stadium in Strasbourg, eastern France.
Strasbourg's South African forward Lebo Mothiba (R) vies with Nantes' US defender Matt Miazga during the French L1 football match between Strasbourg (RCSA) and Nantes (FCN) on September 1, 2018, at the Meinau Stadium in Strasbourg, eastern France.
Image: FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

It just takes a glance at the players surrounding Bafana Bafana striking talent Lebo Mothiba on the French Ligue 1 top scorers’ chart this season to know the kind of company the youngster is now keeping.

Big‚ 22-year-old RC Strasbourg centre-forward Mothiba is among four players‚ including France World Cup winner Florian Thauvin of Olympique Marseille‚ on seven goals.

The others are Lille’s France junior international Jonathan Bamba and Bordeaux’s Guinea international Francois Kamano.

The five names ahead represent a staggering array of global stardom – Edinson Cavanni and Nicolas Pepe on eight goals‚ Neymar on 10‚ and Nantes’s Argentine Emiliano Sala and Kylian Mbappe on 11.

Mothiba is creating a stir in France‚ becoming a favourite at Strasbourg since signing there in late August‚ and a striker to watch in the land of Macron‚ Paris Saint-Germain and the World Cup champions.

And it’s just his first full season in Ligue 1 since moving at 18 to Lille‚ the club where he scored five goals in 14 games in the top-flight in the second half of last season after being called back from loan at Ligue 2 Valenciennes.

“Oof‚” Mothiba let out after a Bafana training session in Midrand ahead of Saturday’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Nigeria at FNB Stadium‚ when asked about what goes through his mind right now at the trajectory his career’s been taking.

‘Oof’ is a word he seems to use a lot. Perhaps it’s the French influence.

“For me all this‚ it’s like a dream come true playing in one of the biggest leagues in the world.

“And I’m doing well. I’m scoring and I’m impressing everyone. And‚ you know‚ I’m just enjoying‚ I’m having a good time that side.

“I’m doing my best‚ I give everything on the field. As a striker it’s good to score goals. That gives me even more confidence.

“So that’s what I’ll do – keep working hard and when I get my chances to score‚ score goals.”

Mothiba has been meeting an increasingly warm reception in France.

“The club are very happy with me‚ the coach [Thierry Laurey]‚ the players‚ the owner [Marc Keller]. Everyone likes me in France‚" he said.

“And that also gives me confidence. I feel comfortable with the guys and that helps me improve my game.”

The searing heat in Johannesburg this week will make it uncomfortable for Mothiba‚ who might be from Jozi‚ but is now used to playing in the cold European winter.

Saturday’s game is expected to be played in 36 degrees C.

“The heat.

" Oof‚ it’s true that playing with the sun here is difficult.

"But the first 10‚ 15 minutes it will be difficult but after that you will get used to it‚ and it will go well‚” he said.

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