Mothiba could provide the type of spearhead Owen da Gama’s Under-23s have been crying out for in the second match of the Rio 2016 men’s football tournament’s Group A at the 72‚000-seater Stade Nacional Mane Garrincha at 9pm SA time on Thursday night (4pm in Brazil).
Mothiba is the sort of striker South African teams can lack. Muscular‚ big‚ physical and capable of playing as a centre-forward leading the line‚ he can provide a sharp end to a South African side laden with nimble little runners who enjoy coming back deep and attacking from between the lines.
Mothiba joined his Under-23 teammates in Brazil on Sunday having been held back by Lille to take part in their pre-season training.
The striker arrived buoyed at having signed a new three-year contract with the French Ligue 1 side and having been promoted from their reserves to the first team.
Mothiba is still practically unseen by football fans in South Africa‚ largely due to Lille having often held him back from junior national duty‚ such as in the U20 African Youth Championships in February last year‚ the Caf U23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal in November and Cosafa Cup in Namibia six weeks ago.
The striker is highly rated by the SA U-23 technical staff.
Mothiba scored a brace on his debut for Da Gama’s team in a 4-0 friendly thrashing of Tunisia in Tunis in September.
In another rare appearance‚ Mothiba also scored the lone goal against Brazil in SA’s 3-1 defeat in a friendly in Maceio in March.
Da Gama’s appreciation of the striker’s talents have seen Mothiba straight back into the starting line-up in Brasilia on Thursday night.
“He scored and then hit the post when we were 2-1 down against Brazil in March. It shows the quality he has. He is strong‚ quick and he is a No. 9‚” Da Gama said.
Mothiba – from Tembisa‚ where he cut his pre-teen teeth for his father’s amateur team Mighty Bucks – spent time with Mamelodi Sundowns’ youth system for two years from when he was 11.
When Downs’ development stalled‚ he joined Kempton Park FC‚ then was spotted by and roped into Boksburg-based Diambars Academy‚ the football school that has its roots in Senegal where it was founded by ex-France internationals Bernard Lama and Patrick Vieira.
SA U-23 and Bafana Bafana assistant coach Thabo Senong also spent time coaching at the academy.
Mothiba was invited for trials by Lille in 2014‚ spent two months with their reserves and U-19s and then was offered a contract.
This season he will compete for a first team place in a squad containing former Nigeria International goalkeeper and captain Vincent Enyeama‚ at a club that finished an impressive fifth in Ligue 1 last season.
“I’m very proud. This is like a dream come true for me – playing for the first team at Lille. That’s what every player wants‚” Mothiba said this week.
“This Olympics‚ I just have to keep working hard so that other teams can also see me and the talent that I have. And also try to help some of my other teammates make it in Europe.
“Brazil are a good team. They have good‚ experienced players. All of them play at a high level.
“So I was very happy to score against Brazil that day in March. I’ll try to ensure I score another one in this game.”