JOHANNESBURG - Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter had to measure his comments about Senegal carefully on Thursday when he named a 26-man squad to face the West Africans in back-to-back win or bust qualifiers for next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The Lions of Terenga, boasting incredible individual players such as Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, have both admirers and critics. Those who love Senegal believe coach Aliou Cisse’s men are Africa’s best chance of a potentially remarkable World Cup appearance should they hold on to their top of Group D place in the qualification phase, while the fault-finders claim this team blows hot and cold and are perennial underachievers as shown in several of the previous Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.
“I don’t want to create a whip that they can use on their players before they go out against us, like we don’t think they are anything special and all of that,” said Baxter.
“Undoubtedly, they have got the who’s who of European football in that team. They have got some fine players, undoubtedly. Experience in the past is that maybe when you have that many good players it is more difficult to turn them into a team. And because of that I don’t think they will be 100 percent happy with the way the campaign has gone.”
The Bafana coach has picked a solid and balanced squad in trying to make sure Bafana have both match winners and influential players in order to beat Senegal twice and reach the World Cup next year.
Baxter even had a welcomed surprise with his selection of Kaizer Chiefs veteran midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala, the 33-year-old who last kicked a ball for Bafana four years ago when the national teambeat Spain 1-0 at the FNB Stadium.
He also retained Morgan Gould and Clayton Daniels at centreback even with the return from injury and suspension of captain Thulani Hlatshwayo and Mulomowandau Mathoho.
Baxter has also selected Andile Jali and Bongani Zungu, although they are both suspended. Jali will return for the second game, while Zungu faces a hearing with Fifa to determine whether his red card against Burkina Faso for violent conduct means he will serve an extended ban or not.
“I saw two very tight games against Burkina Faso (in September) after we got caned for not beating Cape Verde away. Senegal were very close to getting beaten by Cape Verde, and I dare say if they had a man sent off they probably would have been beaten,” said Baxter. “But you also saw in that game that they also have individuals that can turn the game. So we will have the utmost respect for them.”
Bafana Bafana squad: Itumeleng Khune, Wayne Sandilands, and Ronwen Williams, Thamsanqa Mkhize, Clayton Daniels, Mulomowandau Mathoho, Motjeka Madisha, Morgan Gould, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Tebogo Langerman, Sifiso Hlanti, Hlompho Kekana, Dean Furman, Keagan Dolly, Andile Jali, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Themba Zwane, Bongani Zungu, Thulani Serero, Phakamani Mahlambi, Lebogang Manyama, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Percy Tau, Bradley Grobler, and Dino Ndlovu