This is a make-or-break match for Bafana and Baxter. The Scottish coach failed to take the senior national team to the World Cup in Russia last year, so failure to qualify for the continental showpiece could lead to his sacking even though his contract runs until after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Baxter revealed that should the association want to sack him after the Afcon qualifiers, he will leave peacefully without even asking for a penny. A point or more against Libya will not only help Bafana book their ticket to Egypt but it will also strengthen Baxter’s grip on his job.
“I am not going to be thinking about what this game will do for my career or my longevity because I will get on with or without the national team job,” Baxter said.
“But what I would like to do is to make sure that the players have the right mentality, they aren’t thinking selfishly but they are thinking like a team and are aware of the spin-offs. It’s not about their careers, getting a new move, a new car.
“Show that you’re South African, show that you care. That’s what I am going to ask them. If we do that, enjoy and cherish the experience than we will be successful. It’s important that I understand the ramifications of what can happen with a bad result. That’s part of the game and that’s life. But I am not going to be crying in my milk. I’ll make sure that I prepare the team as best as I can, and make sure that we give a performance that we can look in the mirror and be proud of it regardless of the result.”
Baxter’s preparations for this match received a major boost when the Premier Soccer League accepted his request to move some of their games so that he has more time with the players in camp. If the PSL hadn’t moved the matches, Baxter would have had one training session with the team on March 20, have a feel of the pitch the day before the match and then take on Libya either in Tunisia or Egypt with a place in the Afcon at stake.
“I wrote to the PSL and said, ‘I am not asking you to endorse an excuse, what I am asking is you to do is to allow some of our lads to be warriors’. I am so happy that we got the extra days,” Baxter said.
But that doesn’t mean Baxter doesn’t have any challenges heading into this match. His biggest source of stress will be who replaces the injured Itumeleng Khune. The Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper doesn’t only have the safest pair of hands in South Africa, he is also the most experienced player in the current crop.
“Your number one being out is obviously a blow in any position,” Baxter said. “But with Itu having the experience that he has, and the influence he has on the other players, his absence is a massive blow. Darren (Keet) and Ronza (Ronwen Williams) have been fighting it out for the No. 2 shirt, it will be natural for one of them – whoever is mentally fitter – to handle that burden.”