CAPE TOWN – The big question after Bafana Bafana crashed out of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Egypt concerns the future of head coach Stuart Baxter.
The SA national football side lost 2-1 to Nigeria in the quarterfinals of the continental competition on Wednesday night.
Baxter and his employers, the SA Football Association, will sit down sometime soon to dissect Bafana’s performances at the 2019 Afcon.
A decision will have to be made: Will Baxter continue as coach? Or will the search have to begin for a new national team coach?
While Bafana were brilliant in dismantling hosts and initial tournament favourites Egypt 1-0 in the Last 16, some of the team’s other displays at Afcon weren’t all that inspiring.
On Wednesday night, too, Bafana and Baxter were tactically outmanoeuvred by a supremely organised Nigerian side.
Against Egypt in the Last 16, the South Africans’ victory was based on the fact that they were able to get in behind the opposition defence. On Wednesday, Nigeria nullified that by dropping their defensive lines much deeper, allowing no space for Bafana’s attackers to run in to.
After the defeat, Baxter admitted that it was difficult to break the Nigerians down.
“When teams close things down, we always find it difficult,” said the Bafana coach.
“Our penetration play has not been the best at this year’s Afcon. Usually, it is one of our strengths, but we need to have space to launch our attacks from; then we’re very good. But we weren't brave enough in the first half and we didn’t press higher. We used the same type of game we did against Egypt, but we just didn't drop off at the right times, and Nigeria got in between us."
“In the second half, we looked better. We were more mobile and gave Nigeria a few problems. Unfortunately, we still couldn't find that last strike on goal."
Samuel Chukwueze gave Nigeria the lead – but, thanks to a VAR decision, Bongani Zungu was able to equalise for Bafana. Initially, the assistant referee had flagged Zungu for offside, but the television referee overturned the decision. The goal was given and Bafana were level.
Unfortunately, though, William Troost-Ekong was able to snatch a last-gasp winner for Nigeria.
“It's difficult to find positives when you lose a game in the dying minutes,” said Baxter. “Nigeria have good players and they were really well organised. We didn't defend as well as we could, and we left some spaces down the flanks, so Nigeria were always dangerous.
“We tried to win the game in the closing stages, but Nigeria got the goal in the dying minutes.
“It is tough to take, but I have to say congratulations to Gernot (Rohr, Nigeria coach)) and his team. I’m sure they'll be one of the teams in line to lift the trophy.”
African News Agency (ANA)