JOHANNESBURG - Back-to-back victories over minnows Seychelles in this month’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers will all but guarantee Bafana Bafana’s participation at the continental showpiece in Cameroon - but, as always, it’s easier said than done with the national team.
What is promising, however, is the fact that four points after two rounds in qualifying Group E remains an ideal start for Stuart Baxter’s men. He was slated for his side’s goalless draw at home against Libya four weeks ago, but the truth is no one would have expected South Africa to beat Nigeria away last year.
Seychelles are the whipping boys of the group. Nevertheless, the coach has warned that they should not be underestimated - historically the national team has underperformed against the smaller nations.
Baxter selected a 24-man squad he believes has the playing personnel which can deal with any scenario the islanders can throw at them in Johannesburg on Saturday and away at the Stade Linité three days later.
The coach made seven changes to the team picked for the Libya match, some forced because of injuries to Bongani Zungu, Keagan Dolly, Themba Zwane and Bradley Grobler. But it was still lauded as a talented team which simply has to go out there and deliver.
In attack, Baxter has good options in Lebo Mothiba, Percy Tau, Phakamani Mahlambi and Dino Ndlovu, whose goal-scoring form in China could no longer be ignored. Baxter is going for pace, and maybe even power if both Mothiba and Ndlovu get to play a part in the two matches.
They should be less of a threat at FNB Stadium given that Baxter has set up his preparation as it is clear which team has home ground advantage. Having been disgruntled over decisions taken by the SA Football Association to host Bafana’s home matches in Durban rather than in Johannesburg, the coach finally got his wish with this match and Nigeria’s visit next month is scheduled to be played at the 2010 World Cup final venue.
Squad to play Seychelles in back-to-back AFCON qualifiers:
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune (Chiefs), Ronwen Williams (SS Utd), Darren Keet (Wits).
Defenders: Ramahlwe Mphahlele (Chiefs), Motjeka Madisha, Thapelo Morena (Downs), Siyanda Xulu (Maritzburg), Thulani Hlatshwayo, Buhle Mkwanazi, S'Fiso Hlanti (Wits), Innocent Maela (Pirates).
The last time Bafana played there they produced one of their best performances under Baxter - thrashing Burkina Faso 3-1 in a World Cup qualifier by playing to instructions, with flair, speed and getting the goals nice and early.
If they can repeat that, then the visitors will be rattled in the return leg a few days later. Bafana will also arrive in Seychelles before their hosts do, after they were able to secure a Sunday flight that the islanders were also eyeing. Seychelles, who have an artificial pitch at their 10000-seater home ground, will only leave South Africa on Monday, being robbed of a full day of preparation.
Midfielders: Dean Furman, Teboho Mokoena (SS Utd), Lebogang Maboe, Hlompho Kekana, Sibusiso Vilakazi (Downs), Thabo Nodada (CT City), Kamohelo Mokotjo (Brentford), Vincent Pule (Pirates).
Strikers: Lebogang Phiri (Guingamp, France), Dino Ndlovu (Hangzhou, China), Percy Tau (Royal Union, Belgium), Lebo Mothiba (Racing Strasbourg, France), Phakamani Mahlambi (Downs)
While the aim is to qualify for the Afcon next year, Baxter also has to set a path for future Bafana stars. His reasoning for selecting a group of untested and uncapped players for the Four Nations in Zambia earlier this year was to see which of these inexperienced - but emerging - stars were ready for the international stage.
Ditto with the Cosafa Cup - where players like Siyanda Xulu, Lebogang Maboe and Siphesihle Ndlovu impressed. They shouldn’t be like rabbits in headlights when thrown in the deep end, so it makes sense to gradually introduce them. And Seychelles does seem like the ideal fixture.