Johannesburg – The look of contentment that flickered across Stuart Baxter’s face told the story of a man gleefully anticipating the biggest match of his Kaizer Chiefs career.
And with good reason too, for such was the manner of Amakhosi’s demolition of Ajax Cape Town at Peter Mokaba Stadium that the Englishman would have been excused for shouting “bring on Orlando Pirates” at the top of his voice.
But he’s a sensible coach is Baxter, and while he is pleased about his team’s 3-0 victory he knows Saturday’s battle with the league champions will be nothing like the encounter they had here.
“I am expecting a fierce battle,” he said of the Soweto derby that will take place at FNB Stadium. “I think it will be a good game because both teams are in decent nick. And I hope the referee is strong and that the two teams go for a win in a good way.”
While this will be his first derby, Baxter is aware of the magnitude of the match and is excitedly looking forward to standing on the touchline of a packed FNB Stadium and cajoling his team to victory.
“We have a responsibility,” he said of Chiefs and Pirates. “This is a big match and we have to make it an event that can trumpet South African football to the outside world.”
Baxter knows just what it is to play in a big match.
“All coaches and players want to play on a big stage. I’ve been involved in some big matches myself and it is a very exciting experience.
“It was something to lead my team at Barcelona in front of a crowd of 80 000 people in a Champions League match and then go back home to Sweden and play in a stadium with a crowd of about 5 000. So I am looking forward to Saturday’s match.”
His team’s performance – despite its Jekyll and Hyde nature – against Ajax is another reason Baxter is eager to take on Pirates.
“We’ve shown that we can shoot ourselves in the foot and play good football too,” he said of Chiefs’ varied showing.
“This was a difficult match for two reasons. One, Ajax are a very talented team and they did not make it easy. Two, there was always a worry that the players wouldn’t be completely focused on this with the derby coming up.
“Before the break it seemed they were not because our pressing was not co-ordinated.
“But in the second half they played very well, we showed glimpses of just how good we can be and we could have had a runaway win because we had some excellent chances in the second half.”
Both substitutes, Lehlohonolo Majoro and Matthew Rusike, had opportunities to add to the goals scored by Bernard Parker, Pa Gaxa and Siphiwe Tshabalala (who himself missed a chance to complete a brace).
Baxter, however, was pleased that his team had to push themselves to make their dominance count.
“It was not as easy as the scoreline suggests. We had to work hard for a win and this will keep us focused.”
They’ll have to be given what is next. And though he is excited at his pending Soweto derby debut, Baxter has been around too long to be distracted from the job at hand. – The Star