CAPE TOWN – Who would want to be Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter right now, whose decision as to which players line-up against Libya in Sfax, Tunisia, on Sunday, could potentially make or break South Africa's chances of qualifying for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).
Based on recent Bafana starting XI's, and form, it would be surprising if it's not a back four of Thamsanqa Mkhize, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Buhle Mkhwanazi and Sifiso Hlanti. Darren Keet appears to just about have the inside edge for the goalkeeping berth over Ronwen Williams, in what was probably the first of Baxter's tougher calls.
Up front, Baxter has stated his preference for the new-kid-on-the-block, Lebo Mothiba, who has scored four goals in five appearances for Bafana Bafana, not to mention 10 league and cup goals for French top-flight outfit Strasbourg this season.
Baxter has been speaking about the potential partnership of Mothiba and Percy Tau, who with his huge talent and match-winning attributes, his ability to make something out of nothing, should always be a starter for the national side.
That leaves just four midfield berths up for grabs, and it's this area, with a lot of exciting options, which will likely have taken quite a bit of Baxter's time.
It will all obviously depend on the game-plan against a Libyan side who must win the match to go through to the finals in Egypt at Bafana's expense.
Baxter has spoken himself of the necessity of avoiding getting too defensive and playing for a draw from the outset.
"It's a difficult one for both teams because they cannot attack us in case we sneak one and we can't sit there and defend. So it's going to be an interesting one to see the tactical balance between the teams," he said.
"You'll see a South African team that wants to win the game and you'll there's more than one way of winning the game. We certainly don't want to just sit and play for a draw."
Bafana will look to exploit any gaps left open should Libya get too anxious to try and score. And the South Africans will look to use their skill to hold onto possession, to play at a high tempo and to be positive, to a certain point.
But it's not likely they will get overly adventurous, and Baxter could well look to shore up the engine room with the vast international experience of Dean Furman, accompanied by at least one of Hlompho Kekana and Kamohelo Mokotjo.
Both Mokotjo and Kekana have been in excellent form and make a strong case for inclusion. It will be one of the harder calls in deciding if the defensive, and all round capabilities of the trio, make it worth squeezing all three into the middle of the park.
One way for that to work would be to employ Tau more in a free-roaming position in the region of the left wing, alternating as a number 10. However, with Libya known to have dangerous wide players, one of the central midfielders would need to ensure support for left-back Hlanti.
Another option would be to keep Tau central, just behind Mothiba, and to play arguably the most in-form player in the Premiership at the moment, Thembinkosi Lorch, on the left wing, with one of Kekana, Furman or Mokotjo dropping to the bench. Lorch's international inexperience might, however, count against him in such a make-or-break encounter.
Then there's the right flank. Themba Zwane of Sundowns has been amongst the goals in the CAF Champions League, has the kind of character to handle the international stage. A classic winger who knows his defensive responsibilities, he's possibly the strongest candidate for that position.
Bongani Zungu could also play there, or in several other forward positions, but his only recent return from injury may count against him. It's a similar case for defender Rivaldo Coetzee, who's only just back after a long term absence, while Keagan Dolly went down injured in camp this week and has been ruled out.
And what of Thulani Serero? He's not the goal-scoring midfielder he once was, neither for club nor country and has had his ups and downs with the national team. The former Ajax Amsterdam midfielder's experience and quality mean however it wouldn't be a great surprise if he forced his way into the reckoning.
One could speculate and argue endlessly. The point largely being is that there are options abound: two excellent goalkeepers, experienced defenders, hard grafting as well as creative midfielders, and crucially, goal scoring forwards.
One thing is for sure, it would be a huge disappointment if this talented Bafana squad, which does seem to have the makings of team which could do the nation proud in the near future, does not accomplish their north African mission by at least earning the draw they require to confirm their place in the AFCON finals in three months’ time.
African News Agency (ANA)