JOHANNESBURG – Stuart Baxter is optimist that Bafana Bafana will have what it takes to get a point from Libya when the two teams clash in the last round of group stage matches of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers. The match will be played at Stade Taieb Mhiri in Sfax, Tunisia, on Sunday, March 24.
Bafana are second in group B, a point behind log leaders Nigeria, and need at least a draw against Libya to progress to the Afcon tournament which will be held in Egypt in June.
The South Africans travel to Tunisia, a neutral venue because of the political unrest in Libya, under immense pressure considering they failed to qualify for the previous edition in 2017.
Speaking at Safa House yesterday, where he announced his squad for this important encounter, Baxter emphasised that he selected players on merit and not popular opinions.
“It was a difficult squad to select because many of the players that we wanted were not as active as we’ve had liked them to be,” Baxter said.
“We had to select a squad that will give us tactical ability, set out a game plan that will make life very difficult for Libya. We’ve got to change that game-plan if we are chasing the game or want to strangle it. And, the players that I’ve selected, I think they’ll do that.”
In a group where Libya and Seychelles were underdogs, Bafana should have grabbed their opportunities against the minnows when the chances presented themselves in the previous meetings. Instead, Baxter's charges squandered those opportunities - drawing with the Libyans in Durban, before suffering the same fate against part-timers the Seychelles away from home.
But the South Africans have to quickly forget about those frailties and focus on the job at hand. Besides, Baxter is well aware that if he fails to qualify for the continental showpiece, he might as well kiss his job goodbye.
“We need to keep emotions under control,” he said. “I am hoping that we can do the work there, and players on the day will make this job a success with enough passion - rather than going there with high emotions, swinging backwards and forward and win the game with some lottery.”
Baxter’s surprise inclusion to the team was goalkeeper Bruce Bvuma. Currently, Bvuma is the second-choice goalkeeper at Kaizer Chiefs, deputising for Daniel Akpeyi - who’s also been called to the Nigerian national team.
Baxter, who’s worked with Bvuma before, believes that it’s time to gradually introduce youngsters to the senior national team structures. The Englishman has made it clear though that Bvuma is there to gain invaluable and not necessarily to compete - hinting that either Ronwen Williams or Darren Keet will start in goals.
“The third goalkeeper has a specific role, and that role is to be there and available,” Baxter said. “He must be able to jump in when he’s needed, and probably won’t be competing for a starting berth.
This is a goalkeeper that we don’t want to experiment with but we want him to gain experience as much as we can.”@Mihlalibaleka