Stuart Baxter takes charges during a recent training session. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu /BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - The wounded Chipolopolo of Zambia take on South Africa's Bafana Bafana at Moruleng Stadium in Phokeng on Tuesday night with much to prove following a shock defeat at home against Mozambique in their opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier.

But Stuart Baxter’s Bafana are walking with a spring in their step, so much so that the coach has decided to rest the side that also delivered a shock of their own when they beat Nigeria for the first time in a qualifying match.

Tuesday night’s clash is a friendly game that bizarrely comes only days following the all-important fixtures for the continental competition with Bafana having endured an arduous trip to Nigeria and back.

The 2-0 scoreline out in Uwo meant Bafana had managed a dream start on the road to the Afcon in Cameroon in less than two year’s time.

Zambia sit bottom of Group K after Stanley Ratifo scored with what was virtually the last kick of the match to hand visitors Mozambique a rare win at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.

Wedson Nyirenda, the Chipolopolo coach who criticised his men for lacking passion, could be tempted to play his strongest side as he looks to win back some pride and even buy himself more time on the job.

“When I came in, the main objective was to rebuild the team and that is what we are doing. Soon we will have more new faces in the team. To sum it all, I don’t know why there was no passion from my players today,” Nyirenda was quoted after the game.

A win against Bafana, who are fresh from slaying the Super Eagles, might go some way in aiding that.

Baxter has made it clear that he’s casting one eye on to the future of Bafana and he is willing to stomach defeat if it means all of his 25 players picked for the qualifier away to Nigeria get a taste of what it’s like to play for the national team with him as the coach.

“We need to see Lorenzo Gordinho, Rivaldo Coetzee, Abbubaker Mobara, Percy Tau, Aubrey Ngoma and Lebogang Phiri play together because that is ultimately the future of Bafana,” said Baxter. 

“We need to win games, yes, but we should also focus on building. If we can get that right then we are building something great here.”

Only Tau featured against Nigeria at the weekend from the names Baxter mentioned, the striker coming off the bench for Tokelo Rantie to score the second goal in the 81st minute. Rantie had broken the deadlock earlier in the second half. 

Based solely on the call-ups for this qualifier, Baxter managed to get the squad right – an element of the tried and tested with a youthful flavour to it. And he plans to use the Zambia game to see if some of the players are ready for international football.

Ngoma was the only player yet to make his debut in the squad.

Baxter also confirmed that he’d avoid picking the more experienced players for next month’s Cosafa Cup, preferring to use the bulk of the Under-20 players who were recently at the World Cup in South Korea. 

He said he may bring in one or two veterans to guide the young side. South Africa, who get a bye as defending champions, will face an opponent yet to be determined in the quarterfinals of the Cosafa Cup on July 2 at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.


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The Star

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