Will Themba Zwane Still Be a Bafana Bafana Starter Come the 2026 FIFA World Cup?

Will Themba Zwane Still Be a Bafana Bafana Starter Come the 2026 FIFA World Cup?

Jarryd Westerdale
updated at February 8, 2024 at 10:31 AM
In this article:
Themba Zwane logo
T. Zwane
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South Africa
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Mamelodi Sundowns
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  • Themba Zwane had a successful AFCON campaign with two goals and an assist
  • The Mamelodi Sundowns playmaker has been a preferred option for Hugo Broos
  • 'Mshishi' will be almost 37 when the next FIFA World Cup is held in North America

Class may be permanent but so is the eternal pull of age.

Themba Zwane has been one of South Africa's most purposeful attackers in their successful AFCON 2023, orchestrating matters from the base of an attacking diamond.

As South Africa pick themselves up for a shot at the bronze medal, the question is whether this will be Zwane's last international high, or does he have enough drive to hit the North American freeways in 2026?

Themba Zwane, South Africa, Bafana Bafana, AFCON 2023, 2026 FIF World Cup.
Themba Zwane had an outstanding AFCON 2023 but the clock is ticking on his international longevity. Photo: Franck Fife.
Source: Getty Images

Even before the competition, there were rumblings that 'Mshishi' was too long in the tooth to put in consistent performances at the highest level.

He proved all doubters wrong, starting all six of Bafana's games so far, scoring twice and contributing an assist in his 454 minutes played, as listed by FBRef.

That stat means Zwane has played 75.6% of South Africa's tournament, but is only the ninth highest from his country, as Hugo Broos has predominantly stuck with the same players.

When the South Africa coach does turn to the substitutes bench, Zwane is among the first to be pulled, showing that he may not form part of Broos' Plan B.

There is still the 2025 AFCON to aim for but Zwane's legion of fans will dream of him gracing the world's greatest footballing event. Sports Brief takes a look at the key factors contributing to his longevity.

Three key Themba Zwane factors

1. Competition at national level

South Africa currently lack a natural successor to Zwane's playmaking puppet-mastery. Mihali Mayambela and Taahir Goedeman are greater threats out wide and Jayden Adams is more of a box-to-box midfielder, as is Grant Margeman.

Orlando Pirates' Relebohile Mofokeng could mature in time for the international showpiece and it would take a spectacular development arc to see Amakhosi's Mfundo Vilakazi in contention.

Khanyisa Mayo could slot in behind the striker but his strengths are as a traditional nine. Should no able replacement be found, Zwane could still see himself retained in the squad.

2. Competition at club level

Mamelodi Sundowns' squad will evolve at a greater pace than the national team. The signing of Thembinkosi Lorch is an example of how 'Mshishi' will have a harder time maintaining his club place in the coming years.

Masandawana have the resources to buy the best in any position and as soon as Zwane begins to show signs of sluggishness, Dr Patrice Motsepe's chequebook may source another talent.

Lorch could well be the biggest threat to Zwane's Bafana Bafana place. The former Buccaneer has played the position with aplomb and at 30, has time to find a new gear at Chloorkop.

3. Desire and self-belief

Zwane will turn 37 a month after the 2026 FIFA World Cup final scheduled for the MetLife Stadium, across the Hudson and Hackensack rivers from New York City.

Simply qualifying for the tournament will be an achievement and South Africa's qualification campaign ends in October 2025. He does not seem keen on retirement and was quoted by iDiskiTimes saying:

"I will just take each game at a time. It’s about me improving myself and trying to get better, to fight for my position and always be here to represent the country."

Hugo Broos address retirement talk

Sports Brief recently reported on South Africa national coach, Broos addressing questions around his retirement.

The Belgian manager led Bafana Bafana to the semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 2000.

The 71-year-old coach confirmed he is not yet ready to step away and stated he is proud to still lead South Africa.

Jarryd Westerdale photo
Jarryd Westerdale
Jarryd Westerdale (based in Johannesburg) joined Sports Brief after four years in the community journalism sphere. He is a two-time Alet Roux Award winner and was a finalist in multiple categories at the Forum of Community Journalism Excellence Awards.