Stuart Baxter and Shaun Bartlett, a member of the national team technical staff, during training at Steyn City School in Johannesburg. Samuel Shivambu BackpagePix
WHILE we deliberate whether Gift Links was the ideal replacement following Bafana Bafana’s latest injury setback, coach Stuart Baxter still maintains that speed, quick thinking and discipline could be their trump card against the Seychelles in Saturday’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier (3pm kickoff).

Sibusiso Vilakazi ruptured his Achilles tendon during a friendly against SuperSport United yesterday, the striker forced to withdraw almost immediately with Cape Town City’s Links taking his place. It’s thrown Baxter’s plans into disarray on the back of the unavailability of Keagan Dolly, Bongani Zungu, Bradley Grobler and Themba Zwane long before he named his 24-man squad last week.

On arrival in camp, the coach was told he would have to do without the services of defender Thapelo Morena and winger Vincent Pule as they, too, suffered injuries and would not recover in time to face the Seychelles at FNB Stadium this weekend and away three days later.

“I can’t say this is a better squad, but I can say it is different and it is exciting,” said Baxter as he chose to look at the positives.

“I think you can see we are pushing the mark towards the younger players, the talented players rather than the established players, and these established ones are going to have to help out. I thought Morena was perfect for this game, and then he pulls a hamstring.

“And then there’s Pule, who has got a really bad one, it wasn’t just a kick as some people first thought.”

Even with these injuries, Baxter has got a job to do.

“It’s a challenge. I am not saying anything I haven’t said in games before - nerves, anxiety and things like that affects your intensity. If we play with the intensity we are showing now, the quality of the structure, then we will pick our way through (the) Seychelles,” he said.

“It takes time. Nigeria took time to pick their way through. I saw their game against Zimbabwe, where they lost by six, and the first 20 minutes were tight. I also saw the Libya game and it was the same.

“We just have to keep doing it, be disciplined. Our challenge is to reproduce the sort of football we see in training, and that has been the challenge for South African teams - we can do it, but do we do it regularly?”

The expectation is that Bafana win both their qualifiers against a Seychelles team that is made up of part-timers, which would then almost confirm their participation at next year’s Afcon in Cameroon.

“I certainly think that in this game we shouldn’t have any other thought in our mind apart from the fact that we want six points. We will not underestimate anybody because we have done it too many times in the past. I don’t think anything is won by being the politician of saying don’t underestimate the opposition, we have done this before. But not this time,” said Baxter.