JOHANNESBURG – Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter named a quality side he expects to be just as clinical in another all-important fixture early next month – but warned the national team needed to approach their next assignment with humility.
Baxter was buoyant on Monday following the historic 2-0 win over Nigeria two months ago in the opening qualifier for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).
Now Bafana face Cape Verde on September 1 in the first of two 2018 World Cup qualifiers against the same side – first at the Estadio Nacional Stadium in Praia, and then in Durban four days later.
And the coach was at great pains to remind all of the national team’s poor record against opposition teams generally considered to be minors.
The ‘Blue Sharks’ are seen as the whipping boys of Group D, which also includes Burkina Faso and Senegal, having already suffered back-to-back defeats in their two opening qualifiers.
“The top nations are always more stimulating to play against,” said coach Baxter shortly after naming a strong 25-man squad that will assemble on Sunday.
“The truth is we have not been very good against the so-called minors. We can do well against Nigeria, but we can’t beat a side like Mauritania, for instance.
“We can’t take this for granted with our previous history, let alone the fact that we are playing a Cape Verde side with players from Portugal, and the fact that they are in their own backyard.”
The history Baxter refers to reared its ugly head during his predecessor Shakes Mashaba’s tenure, when Bafana failed to brush aside The Gambia and Mauritania in crucial qualifiers, and missing out on the Afcon earlier this year in Gabon.
The national team were held to a shock goalless draw in their opening match against The Gambia in 2015, and followed that up by getting thumped 3-1 by Mauritania in what is now famously termed the ‘Nouakchott Debacle’.
On that occasion, Bafana arrived in the capital city and Mashaba, his technical staff as well as the players had no idea the match would be played on an artificial turf, and were not armed with any sort of intelligence or analysis of the opposition.
“We said we wanted warriors going to Nigeria (where Bafana won for the first time ever in a qualifying match). We will need warriors here, too,” Baxter said.
“A steely mentality to get the three points, so that when we come back to Durban, we are able to open them up a little bit more.
“The truth is that you don’t get easy games anymore, so we need to be humble as we have not been good in these sorts of matches. We know that the six points will be huge for us.”
The venue for this away qualifier will be played on artificial grass, and Baxter said his squad had included a lot of players that would be well suited to that type of surface, especially his midfielders and attackers.
He’s made four changes to the team that caused an upset in Uyo, Nigeria, with Morgan Gould, Thulani Serero, Daylon Claasen and Bradley Grobler replacing Lorenzo Gordinho, the injured Aubrey Ngoma, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Thamsanqa Gabuza.
Gould returns to the Bafana set-up after four years since he last featured for the national team, and his inclusion – which raised eyebrows because he is 34 years old – is motivated by the need for an experienced head and a soldier in the dressing room, Baxter explained.
“The selection reflects very clearly that we will play on an artificial pitch. Look at the omission and inclusion of certain players – these guys are more suited to that type of surface. Bradley links play, and we haven’t gone for extreme target play,” the coach said.
“We want tighter ball control and mobility. Daylon has been out for a while, but from his time in Germany, he understands counter-attack pressing play. He can play as a No 10 or the role that (Themba) Zwane has been playing.
“Part of the rationale is that we are playing on this sort of turf, so we went for guys that deliver a performance on that kind of pitch and can do a job for us.”
Bafana are second in Group D of the World Cup qualifiers after a 1-1 draw away to Burkina Faso, and a controversial 2-1 victory at home against Senegal last year.
Bafana Bafana Squad
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune, Darren Keet Ronwen Williams.
Defenders: Morgan Gould, Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Rivaldo Coetzee, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Erick Mathoho, Abbubaker Mobara, Tebogo Langerman, Sifiso Hlanti.
Midfielders: Hlompho Kekana, Keagan Dolly, Andile Jali, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Dean Furman, Themba Zwane, Bongani Zungu, Thulani Serero.
Strikers: Daylon Claasen, Percy Tau, Lebogang Manyama, Tokelo Rantie, Bradley Grobler, Kermit Erasmus.