By Cue Sibiya
Bafana Bafana head coach Stuart Baxter is impressed with the way his charges performed over the two legs against Botswana in the 2018 CHAN qualifiers, as well as in the COSAFA Castle Cup tournament that was played in Rustenburg earlier this month.
Baxter is also delighted that with the win, this particular group of players will get more international experience.
“The South African public has been a little apathetic with their view of COSAFA and CHAN, and they have a right too because we never really placed it anywhere in our program. What we have tried to do now is to say let’s put it somewhere where it serves South African football,” said Baxter.
“Given the results, given the way we have approached it, I think we are on the way to maybe getting the people on board and understanding what we are trying to do with it. It’s not a train smash if we were to draw 1-1 (against Botswana), if we get all those kids on the field and give them that experience. But it is a train smash if the team that we put out is one that will not put on the national team jersey again.”
Bafana Bafana defeated Botswana 3-0 on aggregate over two legs – 2-0 in the first leg in Francistown (Saturday, 15 July) and 1-0 in the return leg in Rustenburg (Saturday, 22 July).
“If you look at some of the more experienced players, I thought Mario Booysen has done well as captain. He started a little sloppy but he grew into a giant at the finish. If you look at the younger ones that I knew little about, Sandile Mthethwa has been quite impressive as a youngster, Sipho Mbule came in and gave a very mature performance but I knew him from Supersport United, Ryan Moon has done well and could have scored more goals, we also have Jamie Webber,” added Baxter.
“The younger ones have thrown their hats in the ring, but are they ready now? No, they are not. But we have Zambia now and the young ones will get a couple of international games. I think we have found a way we can approach COSAFA and CHAN and it will serve South African football. A few of them threw their hats in the ring, for example, Ntshangase is a very talented player that I didn’t know too much about, who I thought can he move up a level? Can he defend? Can he understand coaching, and he answered me and said yes I can. He did a good job. A player like him put his hands up a little bit and said hey just remember me for the future, keep an eye out for me, which I will.”
But Baxter also has some weaknesses the team needs to work on.
“I am really pleased with the squad I have seen, I am pleased with their attitude early on to embrace the game plan, work with a different system, and play really well. I didn’t like our last 20 minutes (against Botswana), I think it was sloppy, I thought we switched off mentally. Maybe the boys thought well they (Botswana) are not going to score four goals and that affected our concentration. We gave the ball away far too much and we were not effective. So I would give them 9/10 – that last 1/10 they lose out because they could not focus for the last 20 minutes,” said Baxter.
In the third round, South Africa will face Zambia who won 7-0 on aggregate against Swaziland – 4-0 and 3-0.
Bafana Bafana will host the first leg on the weekend of 11,12, 13, while the return leg will be played the following weekend of 18, 19, 20 in Zambia.
“We know that Zambia did well in the U20 World Cup, we know that they have a successful squad going and we know that if we can pick the same sort of squad they (South Africa) will be a massive challenge for them but that’s the sort of experience we want to get into their boots – you can’t buy that and you can’t get it at club level. We want some of these players to go in and represent us again but we have to look at it like the Germans who sent their young squad to the FIFA Confederations Cup,” said Baxter.
“I would venture to say, if they keep going (the kids that have shown their faces here) maybe very soon one of them will play an AFCON qualifier or World Cup qualifier.”
The Bafana Bafana mentor says playing at home first has it challenges.
“It’s important not to concede at home but it’s vitally important that you get a goal. So we have to be a constant threat whilst we defend solidly enough and manfully enough to nullify them. We got a little bit of information on them in the game when we came back from Nigeria – they are a mobile team, physically strong. We will do our homework and make sure the squad is prepared properly,” said Baxter.
In seven matches so far under Baxter, Bafana Bafana have scored nine goals and conceded three – they won five games and lost two.
The journey started with the 2-0 win over Nigeria in the 2019 AFCON qualifiers, followed a few days later with a 2-1 loss to Zambia in an international friendly fixture.
In their first COSAFA Cup clash, South Africa went down 1-0 to Tanzania but won their following four matches – 2-0 win over Botswana and 1-0 against Namibia in the COSAFA CUP, as well as 2-0 triumph over Botswana and another 1-0 victory in the CHAN qualifiers.
“Mentally we didn’t go a goal down, so it is about character. But I have to say I like the trend that we didn’t conceded away in Nigeria, and we don’t conceded in the four COSAFA and CHAN games. I like that trend that people will say it’s difficult to play against South Africa, and I like the trend that we looked dangerous in front of goals – unfortunately we are back at the age old problem of putting the ball in the back of the net, that’s not just a Bafana Bafana problem, it’s a south African problem.