Stuart Baxter says his team will embrace the underdog tag at AFCON. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix
Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter is happy that even though his team qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) unbeaten, not many South Africans or the continent at large expect much from the South Africans.

Bafana are nowhere near the conversations around favourites with hosts Egypt, Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria and Ghana dominating such talks.

But Bafana aren’t to be taken lightly. They did after all give Nigeria a run for their money, stunning them in Uyo before holding them to a draw at FNB Stadium.

Baxter has instead used this  Bafana being looked down upon  as a way to motivate his men ahead of their clash with two-time African champions Ivory Coast on Monday.

“I’ve almost purposely tried to cultivate a siege mentality because of that,” Baxter said.

“You’ve got two choices, haven’t you? You either feel sorry for yourself because things are not going the way you want, or you react in a way that says I am not letting this deter me from what we want.

“For me, that’s throwing down the challenge and saying, ‘so what do you want, what do you want for each other, what do you want for the nation, what do you want out of your career?’

“There may be plenty of reasons for you to feel sorry for yourself and give up, but that will not take you closer to what you are looking for. We’ve almost challenged them with that  that it’s us against the world. No one from the big boys believes that we are a threat, so let them think that. The only time we will be a threat is if we give a good account of ourselves.”

Bafana’s preparations have been good on paper: A camp in Johannesburg before flying to Dubai for a mini-camp and playing in conditions that are 10 degrees hotter than Cairo before landing in Egypt.

But their struggle for competitive matches  one at home and one against Angola, who cancelled four hours before the scheduled kick-off in Cairo  has rubbed Baxter up the wrong way.

“I can’t falsify the truth and say that it has been a smooth ride, it hasn’t,” Baxter said.

“It’s been fraught with challenges and being forced to make changes, it started at the beginning in terms of how long we would camp and the place we were going to camp and whether we had an opponent for a home game. And then the flights out to Dubai, etc.”

Baxter added: “It’s well-documented. So, to say it’s been easy would be falsifying the truth. This is not the time to start putting blame on anybody’s corner.

“The players have reacted fantastically well. They would have every right to feel a bit deflated and sorry for themselves, but every training has been sharp, it’s been good, in the heat.

“We worked really hard in Dubai, and now we are here in Cairo and it’s quite pleasant. We’ve been putting in a lot of good work.”

Baxter gave his team a rest on Thursday and yesterday, doing only core exercises and tactical work before they start their Afcon campaign against the Elephants.

Namibia and Morocco follow in a tough Group D.

“If you look at the last year and a half, we haven’t lost a game to start with, but we also have given the so-called better teams very good games,” Baxter said.

“So, we know that we have the ability to run everybody in this tournament very, very close.

“I mean, Nigeria, who are one of the favourites, we beat them and drew with them. In two games, they only got a goal through an own goal. So we know that we can run the best close.”

Saturday Star

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