JOHANNESBURG – With the nation only relying on Stuart Baxter’s assessment of the new-look Bafana Bafana out at the Four Nations tournament in Ndola, Zambia, the coach expressed delight at how the young players bounced back from a nervy first half to win their opener against Angola on penalties.
A television blackout, meaning no broadcaster has secured rights to beam the competition, which also includes host Zambia and Zimbabwe, left supporters scrambling for live updates of their fixture with Angola on Wednesday, one that finished 1-1 in normal time and won by South Africa 6-5 during the penalty shoot-out.
Bafana will face the host nation after they too won via the lottery of spot kicks against Zimbabwe.
The Bafana account had actually pronounced their win as 7-6 on penalties and made the correction later - opening itself up for sarcastic remarks questioning its reliability on updates.
“I thought it was noticeable that they (young players) were nervous. I think all of them made simple mistakes, but when they settled, I think all of them equipped themselves very nicely,” said Baxter, who picked a squad with an average age of 25.
The coach is looking for a fresh start following the failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Russia.
“It’s all relative,” he continued. “This is the first taste (of international football) for many of them and I think they faced a difficult opponent and for them it was a big game.”
Angola broke the deadlock some 30 minutes into the match (according to the Bafana twitter account) through Djalma Campos before striker Lebo Mothiba, on debut for the national team, equalised five minutes into the second half.
It was a completely new back four and Dean Furman, Bongani Zungu as well as Themba Zwane were the only Bafana regulars on the pitch.
“Angola were better much earlier on. We were nervous,” said Baxter. “I thought we settled down, especially the younger players for 20 minutes or so. We had already started to adapt and manage the game better going into the second half.
There was one structural thing - the way we were pressing. We had one less midfielder player with the way we were pressing. So we changed that at half-time and we changed our possession. We looked to find mistakes behind the fullbacks instead of finding it in front of the fullbacks. Their goal was unfortunate, the player (Campos) took it very well.
I thought we were good in the second half - controlled the ball better and obviously penalties can go either way. But I am very happy to go through.”
The coach promised to ring the changes in the final against the hosts tomorrow.
“The team that will play in the final will be a completely different team - eleven different players. We need this game and we are still looking for the balance between winning and learning,” said Baxter.