JOHANNESBURG – With arrangements for the Four Nations tournament in Zambia “compromised”, according to Stuart Baxter, the Bafana Bafana coach held his tongue and vowed to make the most out of this hastily-arranged series where the national team will face Angola on Thursday in their opener at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium.
It was some ten days ago that Baxter was told about being involved in the competition, which also includes the hosts and Zimbabwe. Baxter, who let his employers have it during a breakfast with several journalists, had instead asked Safa permission to take a young team to the King’s Cup in Thailand.
Another blow not long after the team had assembled at the hotel on Sunday evening was that Rhulani Mokwena, the Orlando Pirates assistant coach Baxter had asked to join Bafana on the trip to Zambia, would no longer be coming.
“This was short notice and sort of on and off,” said Baxter yesterday. “The danger there is that you don’t get enough time to make proper preparations - and I have to say our preparations have been compromised because of that.
But we still only have this tournament to prepare for the (2019) Africa Cup of Nations qualifier (in September) and then the Cosafa Cup, but we know the pitfalls there. We are likely to have another squad on the road as I am guessing the ones we have there will not be the most senior players.”
Baxter has selected a 25-man squad that very much looks to the future following the stinging disappointment of failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia this year.
“We are choosing to prioritise development,” the coach said. “To broaden and strengthen the squad. What I want out of this (Four Nations) is that we get some positive signs, both from the players we think are leaders and the ones we think are contenders.
If we get those positives signs, that will be more valuable to me than winning each game 1-0, scrapping through and not preparing me for what’s going to come up, which is the Afcon qualifiers.”
Bafana got off to a flyer in their campaign to reach the continental competition to be held in Cameroon next year, beating Nigeria for the first time in a qualifying match. It was a convincing 2-0 victory away from home in June last year to mark Baxter’s first official match in his second spell as coach.
But that was quickly undone by the four defeats in the five World Cup qualifiers to shatter Bafana’s hopes of competing on the global stage.
“I would love to be winning the games at this tournament now, but I really want to get a lot of good information that will equip us to go on and have a good qualification. It’s a balancing act because the country wants me to win the games.
But does the country want the same old same old? I think what we are going to do is a calculated risk. I am hoping we will win and learn,” said Baxter, who has four more years remaining on his contract and has been mandated to not only reach next year’s Afcon, but the 2022 World Cup in Qatar as well."
The average age of squad heading to Zambia this morning is 25, with goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune (30) the oldest and rightback Reeve Frosler (20) the youngest.