Stuart Baxter: The happiness of the country is a little bit off my grasp. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix
Stuart Baxter: The happiness of the country is a little bit off my grasp. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix

It's a big ask but can Bafana lift the national mood of gloom?

By Minenhle Mkhize Time of article published Jun 4, 2019

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DURBAN – Fresh from a weekend that has seen two national teams at the receiving end of the losing dugouts in major tournaments, Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter has vowed to try to bring a sense of prosperity in their Africa Cup of Nations campaign.

The South Africans underwent their first training session yesterday at Steyn City School in Fourways - fine-tuning their preparations for the Afcon that starts on June 21. However, that follows a gruesome weekend for some national representatives in global showpieces.

On Friday, Amajita crashed out of the Fifa Under-20 World Cup after finishing bottom of Group F with a single point. On Sunday, the Proteas’ disappointing run in the ICC World Cup continued as they lost by 21 runs to Bangladesh - their second successive loss. Later in the day, Banyana Banyana’s bogey run continued as they were hammered 7-2 by Norway in the last round of the preparations matches for the Fifa Women’s World Cup. Coach Desiree Ellis’s troops are now winless in nine matches.

Do Bafana have any realistic chance in the Afcon? Baxter reckons so.

“I hope that I am not responsible for the happiness of the country because that’s a little bit off my grasp. But I certainly hope that we can do something in the Afcon that will make people believe that our football is moving in the right direction and in hoping that will make them happy,” Baxter said. 

“For me, the pressure to deliver is there all the time, not that we have to make the nation happy. I am a professional.”

Baxter had assembled for Afcon the bulk of players. Missing were Keagan Dolly (groin injury while with Bafana Under-23) and overseas-based Joel Untersee and Nikola Tavares, who play for Crystal Palace and FC Zurich respectively, and are doubtful starters for Afcon.

The South Africans are in Group D alongside Namibia, Morocco and Ivory Coast, who they will meet in the opener on June 24. However, Baxter acknowledges that player control will be of utmost importance if they are to get far in the tournament.

“The players have to perform and realise that if not effective on the day, they have to dig the game out. Maybe they’ve got to do things that they’ve never done before. But for me, that’s a challenge and not a problem,” the British- born coach said. “I’ll be asking players to meet that challenge and put away all the hype and chit-chat. And get down to enjoying the game and being in the team. 

The more we concentrate on that, the less we concentrate on things that players can’t change - if someone is happy or not, I can’t affect that. We’ll just affect the performance.”

To add to the woes of the weekend, Bafana’s makeshift team (the Under-23s) were also defeated by Botswana in the quarterfinals of the Cosafa Cup through penalties, despite dominating proceedings for most of the match. 

Baxter believes that the inability of teams to close the shop when it matters most, is a national tragedy.



The Mercury

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