Stuart Baxter instructs Bafana's players during a training session. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu /BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - Stuart Baxter has a plan to end the club versus country saga.

With midfielder Thulani Serero travelling to Praia, where Bafana Bafana will face hosts Cape Verde on Friday in a crucial qualifier for next year’s World Cup, supposedly carrying a knock, the national team coach has challenged his players to fight to represent their country.

Vitesse, who signed the South African attacker from Ajax Amsterdam in June, have claimed that Serero is unfit to feature in back-to-back matches against the Blue Sharks on Friday and in Durban next Tuesday having hurt his hamstring while playing for the club last week.

“Where is the medical report? We still don’t have one,” said Baxter. “Serero is an injury concern, but you hope when you call up players there is a willingness and desire to represent their national team. Vitesse sent us an email telling us he is injured, but when we asked if they had done an MRI they said 'No, we just stretched him and he was uncomfortable'. 

"Now, you can see there is a level of not wanting to cooperate there. I am not withdrawing a player without having seen a medical report, so we have asked Serero to meet us in Cape Verde and our medical team will asses him. If we need to replace him then we will call someone up for the Durban leg because we feel we have enough players to travel with for the first match.”

It is Serero in particular who has often been embroiled in the club versus country saga during his time with Ajax. In the past, clubs have been accused of concocting injury scenarios to keep players from reporting for national team duty.

“I have not spoken to him about this. The last time we had a chat was when I was congratulating him about his move to Vitesse and telling him that I look forward to working with him,” said Baxter when asked if he’d had a conversation with Serero about the alleged injury.

“I don’t feel I have to ask the player about this until his club proves that he is unavailable. You could find it might not be a conversation at all and the player is happy to show up. I hope the players fight for the right to play for the national team. All over the world, that should be the attitude of any player for his country. We want to breed warriors here and build that sort of mentality. The attitude we want is one of unselfishness.”

The coach then switched his attention to Friday’s all-important fixture against a side made up mostly of players based in Portugal. Baxter, who’s had to withdraw Rivaldo Coetzee from the trip to Praia and replace him with veteran Clayton Daniels just days after losing first-choice goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and his deputy Darren Keet, reiterated the significance of having to forget the historic victory over Nigeria two months ago in Bafana’s opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Uyo.

“We have had a meeting where I have said that Nigeria gives us confidence, but it won’t help us beat Cape Verde,” the coach explained. “My aims and objectives are clear, and that is to win these two games. I am not saying I don’t care how we win them, but I want to win them because they are World Cup qualifiers.”

On his goalkeeping conundrum, Baxter said: “If you are a betting man then you will have Ronwen (Williams) as the favourite because he was one of three who were originally called up, and unless he does something stupid in training you would think he gets the nod. But I am not 100 percent clear about my preferred choice. 

"I have replaced experience with experience by picking Wayne (Sandilands) for Khune, and someone younger, but who has been there, in Reyaad (Pieterse) for Darren. We will have to see on the training ground.”

Bafana are currently second in Group D of their World Cup qualifiers behind leaders Burkina Faso, who have a superior goal difference.

The Star

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