JOHANNESBURG – South African national football coach Stuart Baxter has called into question the attitude of his charges following a shock 2-1 defeat to Cape Verde in a Group D Fifa World Cup qualifier in Praia on Friday.
It was the Portuguese-speaking islanders’ first-ever defeat of their higher-ranked South African opponents.
A first half brace by Nuno Rocha in the space of just six minutes shattered Bafana’s confidence, as the islanders came from behind to secure the first victory of their qualifying campaign. Tokelo Ranti had given the visitors the early lead.
“It was more of an attitude problem than a technical or tactical problem,” conceded Baxter, whose side went into the clash as the overwhelming favourites.
“We opened up the game quite well but when they threatened us they scored. I don’t think we reacted well to that equalising goal and lacked the focus and the composure to keep the game.”
Already beset by cruel luck, having conceded by way of a deflected shot which goalkeeper Ronwen Williams appeared to have covered and a penalty, Bafana were reduced to 10 men when central defender Eric Mathoho received his marching orders for a late tackle in the 66th minute.
“Even when ‘Tower’ (Mathoho) was sent off we still created a couple of very good chances and they didn’t,” added the coach.
But the feisty Englishman was very disappointed the way Bafana responded to the Blue Sharks’ equaliser after dominating the first quarter. He suggested they may have even ‘panicked’.
“In the first half we got our noses in front and were in quite good control of the game. We went into back foot mode, never took responsibility on the ball and lost the ball far too easily.”
“We were like a rabbit in the headlights. I suspect the importance of the game affected a few players and they just didn’t reach their normal standards.”
“The players are hurting. Yes, it haunts them a little, especially those that froze in the second half.”
The South Africans headed to the Atlantic Ocean island riding on a wave of high expectation and level on points in Group D with Burkina Faso, who face Senegal in Dakar on Saturday evening.
They now find themselves heading into Tuesday’s return fixture in the South African coastal city of Durban looking to redeem themselves.
Like in any sport, it is inevitable that a backlash will follow from fans and media alike, who have become accustomed to an under-performing national team in recent times at both continental, regional and international level.
“Sure, we expect a backlash. But we are professionals and have to take it and respond,” said Baxter.
“Yes we are going to get stick. The fans are passionate and very disappointed.”
Factoring in a wicked deflection, an artificial surface, a few questionable refereeing decisions and Mathoho’s rush of blood to the head, Baxter was loathe to look for excuses.
“We have to look for reasons after this setback, not excuses. I can’t blame the fans. They don’t take well to excuses.”
“Winners are not the ones that win all the time. Winners respond to negative things. We will see what the other results bring and make sure we respond and get ourselves back in it.”
Kaizer Chiefs defender Mathoho was sent for an early shower for the second time in as many games and the coach’s patience may be wearing thin.
“He has simply got to learn from this. It takes composure, discipline and focus. ‘Tower’ has to learn these attributes,” concluded the coach.
Burkina Faso and South Africa are on four points apiece in Group D and Senegal and Cape Verde three ahead of Saturday evening’s Senegal-Burkinabe match-up in Dakar.
African News Agency (ANA)