Ahead of a must-win 2018 World Cup qualifier against Burkina Faso at FNB Stadium this afternoon, Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter’s final words - to the press and public at least - hours before this massive clash were that he wanted “balance”.
His men looked out of sorts in their last qualifier, losing both away and at home and not showing any aggression against a Cape Verde side that was expected to be the whipping boys in Group D, which also includes Senegal.
Bafana were completely out of balance then.
“I want a mental balance, knowing that this is an important game, but believing in the process, the game plan and being here and now, not thinking about if we don’t win what will happen further down the line,” said Baxter, pictured, in his pre-match press conference at the match venue yesterday.
“I think we have to take this as a game and then look at the next one after that. But of course this is a do-or-die for us and one can say a World Cup final. We have tried to keep the game plan quite simple, and tried to work on three or four points that the players understand.
"I have to say that when you watch a team play, sometimes you think they don’t want it enough, but many times it’s the exact opposite - they want it so badly that they freeze or so badly that they get anxious. When they are anxious they forget what the instructions were and they look passive, which is an over simplification.”
There is every reason for Bafana players, as well as Baxter, to be “anxious” for today’s World Cup qualifier.
The back-to-back defeats to Cape Verde last month (both ending 2-1 in favour of the islanders) left them and the rest of South Africa reeling and facing the high possibility of not seeing the national team qualify for the global showpiece in Russia next year.
After three matches, Bafana are bottom of the group with only a single point and face leaders Burkina Faso, who are confident of reaching their first ever World Cup tournament.
Add to those dynamics that Baxter will have new back four given the absence of captain Thulani Hlatshwayo, Ramahlwe Mphahlele (knee injuries) and Mulomowandau Mathoho (suspended).
“We can be as gung-ho as we like, go on attack wildly, be very popular with the crowd and then lose 3-0. We’ve got to defend,” the coach explained.
“We have done some work obviously, but two and a half sessions to build a new back four, and without your central defensive midfielder Dean Furman, who is away (suspended), for an understanding between the midfield and defense, is a challenge. We are going to need to defend properly and we hope the work that we have had to do is enough to give us the structure. We hope that balance is ok.”