PRAIA, Cape Verde - By his own admission, finding the perfect central midfield paring is the toughest headache for Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter ahead of Friday's 2018 World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde at the ‘Blue Shark Arena’, the National Stadium.
Even his counterparts in the Premier Soccer League have argued the national team has got no issues in that department, where Dean Furman, Bongani Zungu, Andile Jali, Hlompho Kekana and Kamohelo Mokotjo are all competing for spots.
It was a whole lot easier for Baxter in his first official Bafana match - away to Nigeria in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Cup opener in June - given the absence of both Kekana of Mamelodi Sundowns and Kamohelo Mokotjo, who had just moved from FC Twente in the Netherlands to join Brendtford in England.
“It’s a nice headache to have,” said Baxter following his side’s only training session on Wednesday morning, local time.
Furman and Zungu put up a solid performance against the Super Eagles in Uyo two months ago, where they won the midifield battle in a historic 2-0 victory for South Africa.
“And I don’t want to really start from scratch to be honest by building a fresh new combination. Without revealing any massive secrets, I think it would be crazy of me just after five days with this team to throw away what we did in Nigeira.
"We have two games, one in Durban as well (the home leg against Cape Verde on Tuesday), where I can reform the midfield if I want to and we want to have a bigger push offensively - like going for a three-man midfield.
"But I think in this one (Friday) it would be strange and silly of me to start fannying around with it.”
Bafana Bafana going for first training session in Praia, Cape Verde pic.twitter.com/U2ycT93MPn
Kekana and Mokotjo were both injured for the trip to Nigeria, but are back in contention this week - both players looking as sharp as their teammates in training.
“What I can say is that we really have a good bench, and we have some decent players returning. I must say Andile Jali is also looking in much better shape, so he also comes into the picture more seriously now,” Baxter added.
“So we do have options on the bench. This is the toughest department to make a decision on in the Bafana team. It is going to be up to me going forward to get as many of our good players out on the field as often as possible.
"And sometimes you would think we should have a three-man centre midfield, or play with a diamond with a Lebo (Manyama) or Sibusiso Vilakazi in front of them. That way you get a few more attack minded players on the pitch. But for this game we have had so little time to prepare.
"We did a lot of good work in Nigeria and I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We will probably stick with the same central midfield.”
Another tough choice Baxter might have to make involves striker Tokelo Rantie, the chief tormentor of the Super Eagles in that memorable win over Nigeria with his work rate and the opening goal.
The Turkey-based player had not arrived on Wednesday morning when the coach took his players through their paces having apparently missed his flight to Cape Verde.
Seven overseas-based players were expected to meet the rest of the team in Praia instead of flying to South Africa and then enduring a 12-hour flight here. All but Rantie made the trip and settled.
“There was some screw up with his flight. I will listen to him when he gives his excuse and we will decide what we will do about that. But the squad is together now and the lads have shown an appetite despite the hot conditions,” the coach explained.