Carlisle's Dean Furman eyes Afcon qualification with youthful Bafana squad

Dean Furman's South Africa beat Mohamed Salah's Egypt 1-0 in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations round of 16. Visionhaus

Carlisle United midfielder Dean Furman knows the curtains are closing on his dream South Africa career, but he is not content to go gently into the night.

Playing in the elusive FIFA World Cup tops his wish list, but his immediate focus is to help secure Bafana Bafana an Africa Cup of Nations spot for 2021, starting with a double header qualifier against São Tomé and Príncipe this month.

Cape Town-born Furman spent most of his youth career with Chelsea before moving to Rangers in Scotland, aged 18. After only one Scottish Premiership appearance, he left for Bradford City before being brought into the Bafana Bafana setup by Gordon Igesund in 2012, while at Oldham Athletic.

Furman took to South African football like a duck to water, and after a stint with Doncaster Rovers, he moved to Pretoria's SuperSport United in 2015. He has captained his country on several occasions.

However, Furman hung up his SA club armband this year to settle down with his family in the United Kingdom. He joined Carlisle in August and has played a bit-part role so far in League Two this season.

This did not stop Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki from selecting him for the crucial Afcon qualifying double header against São Tomé and Príncipe.

The squad selected by Ntseki for these fixtures, despite six withdrawals over the weekend, prompted much discussion because of the number of new faces, but Furman believes it has the right mix of experience and youth.

Furman is of the opinion that South Africa's stalwarts with experience from major international matches can play key mentorship roles in the team as a new generation comes through.

He told ESPN: "Looking at the squad, I wouldn't necessarily say it's a changing of the guard. There are plenty of familiar faces in that squad.

"The blend between more experienced players and young players coming through is really important. It's not as if they've gone: 'Right, we're completely getting rid of all the experienced players and bringing the U23s through.'

"It seems like a bit more of an integrated process where some younger players will come in and hopefully make a name for themselves and that's what we're hoping for. As older players, we have to assist the younger players and give them a platform to shine."

Furman feels the trust of Ntseki, who he said has shown an understanding of the leadership roles played in the team by captain Thulani Hlatshwayo and Furman himself.

By his own admission, it is tougher now to be a star of the Bafana show than it was when he was living in South Africa.

"The national team is going to be an interesting one. The reality is I'm getting older; the reality is that I now live in the UK and flying back to South Africa to represent the national team is not the same as leaving my apartment in Johannesburg and driving down the road to join up with camp," Furman admitted.

"It's now a 12-hour flight; it's now missing training with my club. As I'm getting older, it's taking a greater physical demand on my body, so I will have to assess that on an ongoing basis.

"I've always loved representing my national team. Pulling on the Bafana jersey has been one of the highlights of my career, but as we've seen with many other players, travelling can take its toll and it's something that I'm just going to have to assess and see how it coincides with my club football over here."

Although almost universally loved in South Africa, Furman has his doubters. Some argue that at 32 years of age, he has served his purpose in the national team setup.

What nobody can question is that the tough-tackling midfielder adds valuable experience and a ferocious fighting spirit.

Battle-hardened by setbacks suffered throughout the course of a journeyman career, Furman is still clearly bothered by the major tournaments Bafana have missed out on over the last six years.

Furman told ESPN: "The lowlights are probably not qualifying for major tournaments. I think we might have missed out on one AFCON (2017) during my time. Certainly, we've missed out on a couple of World Cups (2014 and 2018).

"That's the key one for me. Those really hurt because I'm a big believer that Bafana needs to be at these great tournament.

"The highlights have been many. My debut away in Brazil, captaining the country, and then probably one of the most recent highlights was beating Egypt in the last 16 of the AFCON in Cairo in front of 75,000 Egyptians when no-one really gave us hope.

"I think that was such a great game for us, because it showed what we can do when we get it right. We are a threat and we can match anyone on the continent."

There is little left for Furman to prove at international level. Having grown up dreaming of merely playing for his country, he has already achieved far more than he bargained for. However, there is at least one feather he still desperately wants in his cap.

"The World Cup is high, high, high on the bucket list. That has always been right at the top... Whether that's slightly out of reach or not, I'm not too sure," Furman said.

Having come so far along the road less travelled to national team cult status, turning away would surely not be easy. If Furman does fail to fulfil his World Cup dream, it would not be for lack of trying.