Unbowed Baxter soldiers on with blooding new players
Despite Bafana Bafana’s loss to lightweight Tanzania in the ongoing Cosafa Cup, coach Stuart Baxter still believes he did the right thing by fielding an experimental, young team.
After masterminding a sensational 2-0 victory over Nigeria in his first official assignment, Baxter rested the team that achieved that heady triumph and fielded a second-string side against Zambia four days later, only to discover that he’d removed the cream from his milk as the team crashed to a 2-1 defeat.
In a brutally frank assessment of the team’s performance against Zambia, Baxter highlighted that he had been impressed with the first-half performance, but called on Bafana to finish off the chances created.
“We showed in the second half that we can’t switch off,” said a disappointed Baxter. “Instead of being a threat to our opponents, we became a threat to ourselves in the second half.
“But we have to keep on doing the right things. The strategy should always be to invest time and experience for the players that are going to go on and have international experience,” he said.
“Moving forward, we should do things similar to the way the Germans are doing in the just-ended Fifa Confederations Cup, where they only had about three or four senior players supporting a group of U-21s,” said Baxter.
To his credit, Baxter continued on his brave route to increase his pool of players by selecting a completely inexperienced team for the Cosafa Cup in an attempt to bring them to the same level as the squad that defeated
But once again, his charges fell short of achieving the desired results against Tanzania.
The challenge now is to strengthen this team for the upcoming African Nations Championship qualifier against Botswana in Francistown next weekend.
There are fears that Baxter could encounter problems from clubs that are busy with their preseason preparations and have in the past shown an unwillingness to release their players, as the tournament does not fall in the Fifa calendar.
That would be disappointing, but Baxter appears to have forged a healthy working relationship with club coaches and has been visiting some and phoning others to gather information on certain players. He appears to have endeared himself to most coaches by stressing the importance of pulling together for the good of South African football, where each stakeholder has a role to play.
His options have been further limited by the fact that Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United players have qualified for the quarterfinals of the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup respectively, and he could be reluctant to select players who need a rest following a punishing schedule.
Bafana are due to play Namibia in the Cosafa plate final on Friday in Rustenburg and will meet neighbours Botswana in the opening fixture of the African Nations Championship qualifiers in Francistown on July 15 and in South Africa for the second leg on July 22.