The South Africans head to the continental showpiece with their supporters doubting they can put in a decent showing following their scrappy performances in the qualifiers. Baxter’s men left it late in Group E - needing a point against Libya in their final match to make a return to Afcon after missing the previous tournament. In the neutral venue of Sfax, Bafana beat the Mediterranean Knights 2-1.
“I think there’s expectations from everybody because if there’s none, then you don’t have any ambitions,” Baxter, pictured, said. ‘The expectations from everybody is that we give a good account of ourselves. People can tolerate to a degree if you perform and work hard. But at the end of the day, we are in a result demanding industry and that’s what will change the opinions of what we do in Afcon.”
Many South Africans may not be putting their money on the Brit leading his troops to Afcon glory, but he is optimistic despite the hurdles. Bafana head to Egypt unsure of how they will strengthen their preparations as they have only one confirmed friendly match against Ghana, while they have so far reached a dead end in trying to organise more matches.
“What has happened in South Africa in the last few years, very much reminds me of what has happened in England,” Baxter said. “Every time there was a glimmer of hope that England would win something, they never won anything. And the expectation level has been unrealistically high on Bafana in the past and that’s probably because of the expectation on the people of how they love football. People get tired of being disappointed and they lower their expectations. And when that happens sometimes, you get the players responding positively.”
However, what will also make the underdog tag sweeter for Bafana if they are able to win Afcon and prove their naysayers wrong, is by doing that without star-player Keagan Dolly. The French-based player suffered a groin injury during his stint with Bafana’s makeshift team that’s currently playing in the Cosafa Cup, last weekend. Baxter, who is yet to announce his final 23-man squad for Afcon, said he will likely replace Dolly with one of the players currently in camp.
“It is a blow. It’s a blow for the squad and Keagan,” Baxter explained. “But it’s a blow for South Africa because he’s one of the promising ones that needs to be fit and play a lot of international games. On a squad level, Keagan is an asset. We needed that sort of asset, but it is what it is.”
The South Africans are in Group D at Afcon, alongside Morocco, Namibia and Ivory Coast, who they’ll play in their opener on June 24.