Following Bafana Bafana’s 4-1 thumping of lowly Namibia in the Cosafa Cup Plate semifinal on Tuesday evening, coach Stuart Baxter says he has assured his Safa bosses he remains committed to his development plan and will not get carried away by any signs of quick success.
The national team bounced back strongly after the shock defeat to Madagascar on Sunday in Polokwane via a penalty shoot-out, which meant that, for a second year running under Baxter, Bafana had failed to progress past the quarter-final stage of the annual tournament. And the coach came under heavy criticism as his side created chances, but failed to convert. It was a different story against Namibia – Aubrey Modiba scoring the opener from the penalty spot, Lebogang Maboe getting a double and captain Siyanda Xulu adding a fourth to shame the hapless opposition.
“I spoke to some of the people in the FA and I said when we decided we were going to Zambia for the Four Nations tournament (in March) with a younger team, with nine debutants and won the tournament, let’s not take all the pat on the back because we won it, but let’s take it because we made that decision,” said Baxter.
“And now I will say the same thing. This was a good game for us because young players got international experience against a good team and they came out and did a good job. So I think that is the biggest positive.”
The national team coach has been on a drive to rebuild the team after the disaster of capitulating during the qualifiers for the World Cup, which starts next week in Russia. Bafana managed a single win from six matches - five of those with Baxter in charge. Shakes Mashaba was at the helm in just one, which ended in a draw – and SA finished bottom of their group.
Baxter, who still has four years to run on his contract, has begun the process to remove the deadwood and blend youth with experience. His Cosafa Cup squad is made up mostly of PSL-based players, with some from abroad, as he looks to find alternatives for the senior team ahead of qualification for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
But the coach is also still trying to deal with the culture of a Bafana side that only performs when under less pressure.
“This is not something we have just discovered, is it? We have had it throughout the last 10 years, maybe even longer,” Baxter explained. “South African players have certain skill sets and certain mental skills. And we lack, a little bit, that steeliness to keep structure and pick our way through. We like to be inventive and creative, but you need that structure to pick your way through.
"I think we need to work very hard on that.”
Baxter said he will ring more changes for Friday’s Plate final against Botswana.