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Johannesburg – Stuart Baxter says his decision to rest as many as five Kaizer Chiefs first-team regulars for their game against Black Africa, of Namibia, in the Confederation of African Football (Caf) Champions League had nothing to do with the level of opposition they faced, but rather due to a taxing set of upcoming fixtures.
Chiefs got their Champions League campaign off to a flying start on Saturday evening, courtesy of a 3-0 victory over their neighbouring counterparts, in a first leg preliminary round clash at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
“The starting of so many of the normal players on the bench was in no way down to any lack of respect for our opponents... quite the opposite,” Baxter said after the game.
“We just worked out that with some tired legs from some of the senior players, it may be easier to get a motivated team from some of the other players that have fresh legs.
“It was basically to try to rest as many as we could. I am pleased in that respect and I'm pleased we got some well-earned rest into some of the senior players.”
Baxter's side headed into the encounter on the back of a midweek Premiership victory over SuperSport United and next face a tricky away trip to Maritzburg United, a mere three days after their Champions League success.
Chiefs will then travel to Windhoek to face Africa in the second leg next weekend, prompting a rethink from Baxter, who opted to keep the likes of Willard Katsande, Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Siphiwe Tshabalala on the bench and only introduced the latter with 20 minutes left to play.
“What I'm pleased with, is that we got a chance to rotate a good number of players, we saved some legs for the upcoming games and we got some vital minutes into the players that we brought in,” Baxter said of his replacements.
“Willard Katsande... if I didn't rest Willard tonight, I don't know when I'll be able to rest him, because we've got two league games coming up that he needs to play in.
“I don't really want to rest him in a competitive game against Maritzburg away.”
Kingston Nkhatha scored a brace either side of half-time, while Mandla Masango scored the opener as the pair sealed a comfortable win for Amakhosi, who were never truly tested at the back and looked in control throughout.
Nevertheless, Baxter admitted he was disappointed that a wasteful display in front of goal cost the Soweto giants a more convincing win.
“As it went through the game, I was just concerned that we weren't going to get the goals that we would like and indeed we missed a lot of chances,” he said.
“That, through the course of the season, is going to be vital for us to turn goal chances and ratios into goals scored.
“We would have liked another couple of goals obviously, but the result is a decent result ahead of the next leg. It gives us something to defend without having to park the bus 1/8in the return leg 3/8. We can go out and play our normal game.”
Baxter was cautious in his assessment of the return fixture against the Africans, but insisted that his team would take nothing for granted when the pair meet in the Namibian capital next week.
“Whether three goals are enough, you never know.
“You never know if it's enough and certainly, there'll be no complacency when we go there. I may rotate the squad and bring in a few of the more senior players, but whatever team we put out, I'm sure they will not be complacent,”
Meanwhile, Black Africa coach Brian Isaacs admitted his young team may have been over-awed by their opponents, but warned Baxter that the Lively Lions would be up for the challenge, with their belief of an upset in Windhoek still intact.
“This was a massive game for my players. They were playing a glamorous team. In my view, Kaizer Chiefs is one of the best, if not the best team in South Africa,” Isaacs said.
“For these youngsters to come and play Chiefs, the moment, at the end of the day, was very big.
“We're playing now for the second game. These players of Black Africa now have more courage and will be brave to play against these so-called stars. We will be more competitive in the second leg. That's why I expect a better result and a better performance.”– Sapa