Baxter goes from dead man walking to national hero

Stuart Baxter’s days as South Africa coach appeared numbered after a limp group stage display left Bafana Bafana up against Africa Cup of Nations hosts Egypt, but a famous defeat of the title favourites has quietened his mounting detractors.

Despite scrabbling through in the final qualifying spot for the last 16, on the strength of a Bongani Zungu header in a gritty 1-0 win over Namibia, the focus back home centred on who would replace the 65-year-old with most convinced Mohamed Salah and co. were about to send South Africa packing in Cairo.

Former striker Benni McCarthy, the country’s record goalscorer and coach of top-flight Cape Town City, was being touted as a possible successor following 1-0 losses to Ivory Coast and Morocco, as Baxter’s ultra conservative tactics prompted a public outcry.

Forward Lebo Mothiba had before the tournament boldly likened the team’s training sessions to those of Barcelona, but such boasts seemed foolish as their cautious approach saw them fail to register shots on goal in two of three group games.

A refusal to play Thembinkosi Lorch, the 2018-19 player of the season in South Africa, did not sit well either but the well-travelled Baxter stuck to his instincts — belatedly introducing Lorch for the suspended Themba Zwane for the Egypt clash — and inflicted a “national disaster” on the shell-shocked host nation.

“The most important thing was to play a game I don’t think Egypt expected us to play,” said Baxter, whose nomadic career has taken the England-born coach to the likes of Sweden, Japan and Finland.

“I think the boys, you know we say sometimes African players can’t be tactically smart … but I think the players they showed a masterclass, it was excellent.”

The jubilant mood was a far cry from that engulfing the squad just five days earlier after Mbark Boussoufa’s 90th-minute goal threatened to knock South Africa out in the group stage.

Second stint in charge

But Bafana Bafana, who missed out of the 2017 edition, were the beneficiaries of the new format in an expanded 24-team field and seized upon their second chance to silence a staunchly pro-Egyptian crowd of 75,000, and in Baxter they perhaps had a personality better prepared than most to confront a challenge of such magnitude.

He first surfaced in South African football when he took the national team job in 2004, resigning the following year after a failed World Cup qualifying bid and returning to Vissel Kobe — a decade after his arrival for a first spell at the Japanese club coincided with the aftermath of an earthquake that devastated the city.

Rather than flee amid the trauma Baxter stayed put and guided the club into the top division, the experience leaving an indelible mark on a man who then led AIK to the Swedish title and an appearance in the Champions League group stage.

By the time South Africa came calling for a second time in 2017, after the dismissal of Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba for publicly criticising FA president Danny Jordaan, Baxter had captured a pair of league titles with Kaizer Chiefs following a spell in charge of Finland.

Officials reportedly wanted a big name replacement but were believed to be priced out of moves for Herve Renard and Hugo Broos, Cameroon’s title-winning coach in 2017, and Baxter was eventually reappointed after a long delay.

A dismal showing in 2018 World Cup qualifying gave way to a much improved start on the road to the Cup of Nations, but after scaling the heights with a 2-0 win in Nigeria, Bafana Bafana plumbed the depths in a 0-0 draw with Seychelles.

Needing a draw against Libya to reach Egypt, Percy Tau scored twice as South Africa won 2-1 and Baxter survived, which he has done once more here by eliminating the hosts against the odds.

“I think we showed that we belong in this tournament, we showed we can be a tough opponent for everybody,” Baxter said after South Africa’s opening game. They are words he will hope again ring true against Nigeria in Wednesday’s quarter-final.

© Agence France-Presse


Study unpacks the ‘hidden racism’ at Stellenbosch

Students say they feel unseen and unheard at the university because of their skin colour

Workers’ R60m ‘lost’ in banks scam

An asset manager, VBS Mutual Bank and a Namibian bank have put the retirement funds of 26 000 municipal workers in South Africa at risk

‘Judge President Hlophe tried to influence allocation of judges to...

Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath accuses Hlophe of attempting to influence her to allocate the case to judges he perceived as ‘favourably disposed’ to former president Jacob Zuma

SAA grounds flights due to low demand

SAA is working to accommodate customers on its sister airlines after it cancelled flights due to low demand

Press Releases

MTN unveils TikTok bundles

Customised MTN TikTok data bundles are available to all prepaid customers on *136*2#.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves

Marketing is an exciting discipline, offering the perfect fit for individuals who are equally interested in business, human dynamics and strategic thinking. But the...

Upskill yourself to land your dream job in 2020

If you received admission to an IIE Higher Certificate qualification, once you have graduated, you can articulate to an IIE Diploma and then IIE Bachelor's degree at IIE Rosebank College.

South Africans unsure of what to expect in 2020

Almost half (49%) of South Africans, 15 years and older, agree or strongly agree that they view 2020 with optimism.

KZN teacher educators jet off to Columbia University

A group of academics were selected as participants of the programme focused on PhD completion, mobility, supervision capacity development and the generation of high-impact research.

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.