Baxter ‘can’t tell if players are anxious’ about Bafana talks

JOHANNESBURG – Stuart Baxter, who had only lost by a 5-0 margin in his coaching career to Barcelona at the Nou Camp until Thursday evening, says he’s tried to be unaffected by the speculation around his future as a potential Bafana Bafana coach.

“But I can’t get in the minds of the players,” said the SuperSport United coach as he tried to make sense of his side’s poor showing in yet another 5-0 drubbing, this time at the hands of Mamelodi Sundowns in the Tshwane derby.

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Stuart Baxter says there won’t be much time for SuperSport United to prepare for their next two matches. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePixSuperSport United striker Fagrie Lakay scored in Liberia last weekend. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

It’s been a little over two weeks since the club gave the SA Football Association (Safa) permission to speak to Baxter about the vacant national team post following Shakes Mashaba’s sacking four months ago.

Those discussions, however, have seemingly turned into a soap opera and is clearly affecting the SuperSport players, who have to recover quickly for Sunday’s CAF Confederation Cup second leg playoff against Liberia’s Barrack Young Controllers in Atteridgeville.

“It’s difficult to quantify it,” added Baxter. “I have tried to work normally, and I think I have been able to do that. I can’t see if the players are anxious or if some of them are glad to hear the news. I don’t know. I can’t tell.

“But there is probably an element of that as well, and I think there are a few things as well. I don’t want you guys to write and say I said the players didn’t try, but I think they didn’t do themselves any favours. Some of them threw in the towel pretty quickly.”

Baxter’s men, even with dropped heads going into the continental fixture, have a slight advantage in that Fagrie Lakay managed to grab a crucial away goal in the 1-1 stalemate in Liberia last week, meaning a goalless draw would be enough for SuperSport to qualify for the Confederation Cup group stages.

But the visitors will fancy their chances given the heavy defeat on Thursday night in the Absa Premiership, a result that dented Matsatsantsa’s championship ambitions as they slipped down to fifth place on the table with eight games remaining.

It was the second league defeat in a row for SuperSport, who were narrowly beaten by relegation candidates Baroka FC days after the club confirmed they had given Baxter the go-ahead to speak to Safa, and the loss ended their 19-game unbeaten streak.

“The mood in the dressing room before the game was a bit downbeat,” said the coach as he reflected on his second heaviest defeat, the first 5-0 coming during his days at Swedish side AIK in 1999.

SuperSport United striker Fagrie Lakay scored in Liberia last weekend. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

“I don’t know why there was that dampness in the dressing room. There was a lot of anxiety. We play them again next week, but I wouldn’t call it a grudge match because derbies are what they are.

“We have a CAF game and we have to win that one first and go through. We don’t have a lot of time to train. We will analyse the game and we will talk, and that really is going to be our preparation for the CAF game and the second Sundowns game.”

SuperSport aren’t the only ones occupied by continental fixtures this weekend, with Bidvest Wits also in with a chance to qualify for the group stages of the same tournament when they face Egyptian outfit Smouha at the Borg el Arab Stadium on Saturday night.

Smouha were able to hold the Clever Boys to a goalless draw in Milpark last weekend, and will fancy their chances in their own backyard.

Platinum Stars host AS Tanda from Ivory Coast, but that tie could have already been decided in Abidjan six days ago, when Dikwena suffered a 2-0 defeat.

Saturday Star

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