Mulomowandau Mathoho, Keagan Dolly and Tebogo Langerman take a stroll on Saturday morning in Uyo, Nigeria. Photo: @BafanaBafana via Twitter

UYO, Nigeria – “Despite what people think, you can do little from the bench.”

With these words, Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter hoped he’d done enough in preparing for his first official match, a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier away to Nigeria tonight (6pm SA time) at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium here in Uyo.

By his own admission, there is a bit of anxiety given the stern test expected from the Super Eagles, and the fact that Baxter will immediately come under fire from fans should the result not go in Bafana’s favour.

“If you are lucky, you can capture one thing from the bench, but that is unusual,” said the coach, speaking at the team hotel before his side’s final training session yesterday.

“Halftime is an opportunity, and then you try keep pushing that in the second half. We have spoken about being brave, not backing off and sitting back waiting for them.

“If it doesn’t go well, do we panic and think they are better than we thought? Reacting and adapting is also being brave.

“I am trying to talk to the players about not feeling inferior. If we go a goal up, we play. If we go a goal down, we play. Both those situations can put us on the back foot.”

Baxter knows the fickle South African fan won’t want too many explanations should Nigeria continue their dominance over Bafana.

Stuart Baxter discusses tactics with Bafana assistant coach Thabo Senong. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

He feels, however, that he is more prepared than he was in 2004 when he walked on to the pitch as national team coach in his first spell in a 2006 World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde in Bloemfontein.

“I had been three months in the job and had two camps and no friendly games. We luckily won 2-1, but I don’t think we played well,” Baxter recalled.

“I do reflect on that, and what I reflected on is that how did I prepare myself? What did I have to know?

“I thought I knew quite a lot because I’d done a lot of studying and read a lot on South Africa. Having gone on that road, then coming back years later at (Kaizer) Chiefs and SuperSport (United), I probably wasn’t as well prepared as I thought.

“But going into this game (against Nigeria), I honestly don’t think I could have done more than I have done now. And if I did do more, I would have been doing the players a disservice because I would be throwing so much at them all at once in such a short space of time.

“I would be disturbing them rather than helping them. I will be nervous despite the fact that I have stood in front of a 100 000 people in a derby in Congo, Germany and in all my experiences.”

Baxter will not be fazed by criticism should tonight go horribly wrong. “I shouldn’t worry about what someone walking out of the shebeen says on Twitter.

“The problem is that if that becomes an issue for me, the only result of that is that South Africa have a coach that isn’t doing his job. What people say won’t worry me one bit,” the coach explained.

“I have to make sure I tick all the boxes so that the risks we take today and going forward is higher.

“Despite what people think, you can do little from the bench.”

Saturday Star

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