Sibusiso Vilakazi beat his toughest challenge this season, a ruptured Achilles tendon, through hard work and dedication which saw him return sooner than expected.
But he is powerless in the biggest challenge of his career – earning a ticket to Egypt for the Africa Cup of Nations.
The fact that Vilakazi was injured on national team duty will not help his case as he fights to represent his country in the continent’s biggest competition. What should help him though is his experience in the continent, having travelled the length and breadth of Africa with Sundowns in two successive CAF Champions Leagues and flying the continent’s flag in the 2016 Fifa Club World Cup.
“Of course I would like to be there, but it’s down to the selection and me meeting the criteria,” Vilakazi said.
“I would like to be there, but we will see what happens. I don’t know if I have done enough to earn a place since my return from injury. The only thing that I was hoping for (when I was out injured) is that I get through the rehab, I return stronger and ready to contribute to the team so that I give the guys a boost towards the end of the season. I think that I have managed to do that.”
The 29-year-old played just 12 matches for Sundowns in the Absa Premiership. His contribution might have been minimal, but it came in handy nonetheless towards the end of the season. “Vila” brought fresh legs and drive in a team that had competed in their most gruelling season to date, taking part in two Champions League seasons which were sandwiched into their domestic league campaign.
Vilakazi produced an assist in his second match back from injury and scored in his third. Lifting the league trophy in Bethlehem on Saturday brought a sweet taste to what had been a miserable season for the Sundowns forward.
“Twice is very nice, hopefully next year we come back to make it back-to-back-to-back,” Vilakazi said. “This one is very nice because we were able to defend it. As a team and as a collective, we have done very well. What makes this special is that we defended our title. To come back and defend the trophy while everyone was trying to take it from us was hard, but we managed to fight through under the circumstances we faced.”
Vilakazi was among the Sundowns players who were a hit when the club paraded their trophy in Pretoria on Tuesday. Everywhere the club went, whether it was Mamelodi, the Tshwane University of Technology or Sammy Marks – they were met by a number of adoring supporters who were happy to see their team and the biggest prize in South African football.
“It’s important to bring our trophy and showcase it to the fans, show that we really worked hard and that their support has been amazing,” Vilakazi said. “The parade is for the people, to show that we appreciate them coming in their numbers throughout the season.”