Bafana's Veldwijk at a career crossroads as Sparta face PSV
South Africa striker Lars Veldwijk finds himself at a career crossroads as Sparta Rotterdam prepare for a high-profile Eredivisie clash against PSV Eindhoven at the Sparta-Stadion Het Kasteel on Saturday night.
The lanky 28-year-old has scored three goals this season and appeared in 10 of Sparta's 11 league matches thus far. On paper that's a perfectly respectable return, but a closer look reveals that Veldwijk does not have the trust of manager Henk Fraser.
All of the striker's Eredivisie appearances have been as a substitute and his cumulative playing time is a mere 222 minutes - not even three full games. In addition, the South African has managed an average pass completion rate of just 52.6 percent this season, making him something of a liability when Sparta are trying to build attacks.
Veldwijk is effectively a blunt tool - with his aerial prowess particularly emphasised - though one that can be mightily effective in important moments: one of his goals was the final strike in an easy 4-1 win over VVV, but the other two have come in hard-fought 2-2 draws away to PEC Zwolle and derby rivals Feyenoord.
The Bafana Bafana striker, who is unlikely to be called for the national team's upcoming 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Ghana and Sudan, given his relative lack of playing time, was handed a chance in midweek to earn his way back into the good books.
On Wednesday night Fraser gave him a start in their KNVB Beker (FA Cup) match against Volendam, stating ahead of the clash that he wanted fringe players such as Veldwijk to provide a selection headache.
"We have six players who already think they should play. There is a chance that three, four or five will play. Especially in their body language they show that they do not agree with me. Now comes a moment for them to convince me. For example, you may assume that Lars Veldwijk is playing," Fraser told RTV Rijnmond.
Veldwijk did indeed start and took his opportunity with both hands: 78 minutes of play and the only goal of the game as Sparta moved into the next round.
Having nailed the audition, Veldwijk will expect to play some part against PSV. Fraser may be loathe to split up the duo of Ragnar Ache and Ibrahim Dervisoglu as his front two, but the South African will surely be the first option Sparta look to should they need attacking reinforcements or plan to play a more direct style.
Usually a match against PSV would be one in which a modest team like Sparta would look to stymie and frustrate the heavyweights, but Mark van Bommel's side have been off kilter in recent games, culminating in a stunning 4-0 loss at home to AZ last weekend.
PSV are very much there for the taking and Veldwijk has done all he can to elbow to the front of the queue: now he needs to strike against one of the Eredivisie's premier clubs to reclaim the trust of his manager and set his career back on an upward path.
More live European football action on ESPN this weekend
ESPN will feature plenty more African stars in its live European football coverage over the coming weekend, as a Super Lig clash comes your way on Saturday afternoon, with Trabzonspor host Goztepe (ESPN 2, 16:25 CAT).
The EFL Championship coverage is headlined by the early afternoon game on Saturday as Andre Ayew goes head-to-head with Sam Morsy in Swansea City v Wigan Athletic (ESPN 1, 14:25 CAT), followed by Luton Town v Nottingham Forest (ESPN 1, 16:55 CAT). Sunday sees high-flying Preston North End tackle Charlton Athletic (ESPN 1, 13:55 CAT).
The Belgium Pro League is represented with two matches: Club Brugge v KV Kortrijk on Saturday night (ESPN 1, 21:25 CAT), in which the likes of Percy Tau, Emmanuel Dennis and David Okereke will be major goal threats, as well as Sunday's Standard Liege v Gent (ESPN 1, 18:55).
The Scottish League Cup has reached its semifinal stage and ESPN will have both matches live: Hibernian face Celtic on Saturday (ESPN 1, 19:25 CAT), while Sunday is headlined by Joe Aribo's Rangers tackling Hearts (ESPN 2, 16:55 CAT).