Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter wants his team to truly believe they can get to AFCON. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter is looking for mentally strong players to take to Tunisia for the important Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Libya later this month.

Baxter’s men have to undo their recent sloppy run in the qualifiers by getting at least a point from the Mediterranean Knights to qualify for the Afcon that will be staged in Egypt.

Bafana started the qualifiers on a high note, beating nemesis Nigeria for the first time in a competitive match. But their draws with Libya in Durban and Seychelles in Victoria undid all that work.

They now sit in second place in Group E, a point behind the Super Eagles who have already secured their ticket to Egypt.

Bafana lead Libya by two points, which means that the winner of the match will join Nigeria in the continental showpiece.

A point for Bafana will do the job. The Libyans have to take the initiative as they need nothing short of a win. Baxter will name his squad this week.

“It’s such an important game,” he said.

“You don’t want to be experimenting too much with this one. You don’t want to be taking people that you don’t think are mentally strong and they can give a performance with a knife on their throat.

“Players that I know are easier to select than players that I don’t know. But if there’s a player who’s in a hot vein of form, there has to be space for that player.

“The majority of the squad will be the ones that I know and the ones who know what we want.”

This match will go a long way in determining whether Baxter’s tenure is a success or a failure.

The disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign, where Bafana finished at the bottom of their group for the first time in the country’s history, counts against him.

To make up for that, he not only has to take the team to Egypt but he also has to put on a decent showing once there.

“I am fully aware of the importance of the game but not of the importance of the game to me; that’s irrelevant really,” Baxter said.

“It’s important to the country and so many people, that going to a major competition would reflect in their happiness and their involvement as the tournament progresses.

“I know all the ramifications of this game.

“Even though I analyse my own work, I don’t try to rate myself. I don’t say that you would be a failure if you didn’t do this and you would be a success if you did that.”

He continued: “I know that football and life isn’t like that. You’re not a success because you do one thing successfully. You’re a success because of the way that you live your life, deal with and treat other people.

“Are you humble? Are you loud and abusive? That’s the criteria you use in the bigger picture; in the smaller picture I know that people look at results in our game. I am well aware of that.”

Baxter’s biggest decision will be which goalkeeper he trusts in the absence of the injured Itumeleng Khune. Darren Keet and Ronwen Williams lead the race. The pair have to prove their worth after previous disappointments - just like Baxter has had disappointments.

“When we didn’t qualify for the World Cup, I held myself hugely responsible,” he says. “I didn’t make excuses and blame the players. I held myself responsible. That’s how I am. I’ve got great difficulty debriefing a game properly because I’ve got to get over my worries first.”

Sunday Independent