JOHANNESBURG – “It would have been easier playing Spain.”
This statement from Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter summed up just how crucial the national team’s preparation against lowly Seychelles in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier this afternoon at FNB has had to be.
South Africa are expected to collect maximum points – first in their own backyard, before travelling to Victoria for the return leg three days later.
For the public, it’s that clear cut – but not so for the coach, who last month suffered the embarrassment of being held to a goalless draw by Libya in Group E.
Results so far suggest Seychelles are the whipping boys of the group, so naturally, Bafana are also believed to be too good for these minnows.
“We don’t usually discuss what we talk about (with the players), but I think this is so obvious. I said to them this is an Afcon qualifier – the second-biggest tournament they can play in.
“If that is not enough for them, that when they started playing football as kids they wanted to play in major tournaments, then they can’t come this far and then take it with a pinch of salt. That was the message to the players,” said Baxter.
Bafana are tied on four points with log leaders Libya, and a win in these back-to-back qualifiers will all but guarantee their participation at next year’s tournament in Cameroon.
Baxter was cautious of dismissing today’s opponents, however.
“No, it hasn’t been easy preparing,” he argued.
“Every coach around the world would concur with that. It would have been easier playing Spain. That is not slighting our opponent whatsoever – that is a fact.
“But professionals are here to do a job… they don’t bitch about being complacent and not working hard enough. That would mean their attitude was wrong.
“So, we do everything we can to make the attitude right when we walk over that white line – and then it’s up to them to deliver.”
Baxter also touched on the well-documented scoring problems Bafana have had in previous and current qualifiers.
He tried to address that this week by roping in Shaun Bartlett – the national team’s second all-time leading goal scorer with 28 goals from 74 caps, behind Benni McCarthy – as an assistant coach.
“It’s a hellish job being a centre forward for South Africa because everybody talks so much about how we have no centre forwards,” the coach said.
“So when you go in you have the hopes of the nation on your shoulders.
“I think both Dino Ndlovu and Lebo Mothiba are pretty tough, and have both been scoring goals.
“Whoever is called on to do the job, I think both of them will go in there believing they will score, which is exactly why they are in the squad.”