JOHANNESBURG - Stuart Baxter has said that Bafana Bafana's players will play for their international futures in Tuesday night’s dead-rubber 2018 World Cup qualifier against Senegal in Dakar, but the coach should be well aware that he, too, may have lost the backing of his employers at the SA Football Association.
At the second time of asking under Baxter, the national team has again failed in their attempts to reach a World Cup event. The Scotsman was also in charge when Bafana missed out on the 2006 global showpiece in Germany.
It was on Friday night at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane that the dream was shattered, a 2-0 defeat against Senegal ensuring that the ticket to Russia went to the Group D leaders, who will now celebrate this triumph in front of their home crowd at the Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor on Tuesday night.
“I don’t think you should need to motivate players to play for their country,” said Baxter, who turned heads after the loss when he argued that he had no “written mandate” to qualify for the World Cup when he was appointed in May.
"You may have to give them a reason and inspire them a little bit now to find that motivation. Anybody that’s picked should see the significance of an international game.
"Let’s say for example Phakamani (Mahlambi) was selected and scores three goals, in a meaningless game how do you think that affects his international future? So, that is some of the rhetoric that I am going to direct towards them.”
Baxter added that the game was also about self-respect.
Although the coach did not mention this, he and the Bafana players were also informed that the result against Senegal could still be overturned given the fact that the match, which was a replay ordered by Fifa following allegations that the corresponding fixture a year ago was fixed, would soon be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Bafana, under then coach Shakes Mashaba, had managed to beat Senegal 2-1 at the Peter Mokaba Stadium last year.
“We will be playing for pride and our futures,” said Baxter. “And we will be wearing the shirt and everything that goes with that badge has to mean something.
"I am a professional and I have got to make sure that we play as well as we can. Is it easy? No, it’s not. But you have got to put in the effort.”
It is unlikely then that Baxter will make wholesale changes, and the same could be said of his counterpart Aliou Cisse, who captained Senegal at the last World Cup they participated in 15 years ago. Bafana will need these three points should CAS rule in their favour.
Meanwhile, Safa at the weekend said Baxter would be allowed to give a full technical report on what went wrong in Bafana’s disastrous road to Russia, which ended with them sitting bottom of the group with four points from five games.
Baxter lost three of the four qualifiers he has been in charge of - two of them at home.
The association expressed deep regret that South Africa last qualified for the World Cup in 2002 before hosting the tournament in 2010, where they were the first host country to fail to emerge from the group stages.
Baxter, who has a five-year contract with the national team, is also expected to outline the way forward.