JOHANNESBURG – Stuart Baxter is adamant that Bafana Bafana are not one of the favourites for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations title, but he is confident that his team will hold their own against the best on the continent.
Bafana made a meal of what started out as a good qualifying campaign after they beat Nigeria away for the first time in a competitive match.
But, as usual, they struggled to beat lesser-known teams which led to them being the last team to book a ticket to Egypt even though they were in a group that also featured Libya and the Seychelles.
Their unbeaten run during qualifying has given the side confidence going into a tough group that features two-time African champions Ivory Coast, one of the tournament favourites Morocco and neighbours Namibia.
“This is a team in reconstruction,” Baxter said. “This is a team that okay, we haven’t lost in a year and a half - that’s encouraging, but to call us one of the favourites would be ridiculous. I think that you’ve got Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Morocco who will all feel that they’ve got a much better chance than us.
“What we need to do is to keep on improving, play our game with confidence and we don’t show an exaggerated respect for everybody. We have to go out there with the belief that we have a chance to win, and you’ll never know what will happen.
“You win a few games and suddenly the whole thing leads its own life. Even though you are not favourites, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a chance to win it.”
Bafana will finalise their preparations with a friendly against Angola in Cairo tomorrow after drawing 0-0 against Ghana in a training match in Dubai on Saturday. Coach Baxter fielded two teams against the Black Stars. The first team - led by Percy Tau and Lebo Mothiba upfront, showed Baxter’s hand a bit as the pair are likely to take their partnership to Afcon.
Tau and Mothiba have formed a solid understanding and they complement each other well in their movement. They showed that understanding to good effect against Nigeria at the FNB Stadium during qualifying.
Baxter will be looking to ensure that it continues in Egypt in a tough group. Bafana will kick off their Afcon campaign against Ivory Coast next Monday, followed by a clash against Namibia next Friday before wrapping up their Group D fixtures against Morocco on July 1.
Bafana need to finish in the top two to reach the last 16 or be one of four best third-placed teams. To achieve that, their attack has to come to the party with the defence having carried them in the qualifiers.
“I am always impressed with Percy because his attitude is spot on,” Baxter said.
“We asked him to play a slightly different role in the friendly against Ghana. Our midfield players and our defenders didn’t defend the way we wanted to, which meant that Percy was dragged back.
“In the second half, we defended better so people like (Lebo) Maboe and Themba Zwane were also dangerous high up the field. That’s what we also wanted to do with Percy but we didn’t do that in the first half.”