DURBAN – The positivity that Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter has tried to spread around his squad following the weekend’s defeat in Cape Verde seemed to be working after the players put in an energetic shift at training at Moses Mabhida Stadium.
South Africa host the island nation on Tuesday night following Friday’s 2-1 upset in Praia in the third match of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Tokelo Rantie had given South Africa the lead with a solo run and low finish, but Baxter’s men conceded an equaliser and a penalty in the opening period.
It got worse when defender Erick Mathoho was ejected in the second half.
Upon arrival in Durban, the coach clutched at positives in explaining the performance at the halfway point of the qualifying programme for Russia 2018.
That optimism was shared by the players at training at the match venue late yesterday afternoon. It was the group’s first training after they arrived late on Saturday following a 16-hour trip from Cape Verde.
The session was a vibrant one, with Baxter working on the shape of the midfield and defence, and assistant coach Quinton Fortune focused on the attacking elements with the strikers and wingers.
Defender Abbubaker Mobara, who will aim to challenge Morgan Gould for the vacant central defensive slot next to captain Thulani Hlatshwayo, was confident about getting the business done tomorrow.
“What happened in Cape Verde, we have to accept it and move on. Tuesday is another game, a second leg for us to rectify our mistakes and get back to winning form,” said the Orlando Pirates regular.
“The depth in the squad is very good. There are quality players here, and we have the ability to win this game. We have to start by believing in ourselves and go out and show the country what we are made of.”
Mobara, making the step up after playing at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was one of the Buccaneers’ standout performers in the club’s horrible showing last season.
Although veteran Gould is favourite to play, Mobara offers Baxter versatility in that he’s comfortable in the middle of the park and at right back.
And the 23-year-old is enjoying the competition. “Competition makes a winning team. You can’t just walk into a team because of your name. It is not fair; you have to work for your place. And with competition, you can only improve and better yourself,” added Mobara.
At the halfway stage of the qualifying campaign, South Africa are third with four points, behind leaders Burkina Faso (five points) and Senegal (four points), with Cape Verde bottom on three points.
Tomorrow shortly after South Africa kick off against Cape Verde, Burkina Faso host Senegal in the other Group D match. Only the group winners will qualify for the Fifa showpiece event next year.
Scotsman Baxter promised to shake things up. Midfielder Thulani Serero is the favourite to start as South Africa look to go for the jugular with a more attack-minded line-up.
“Serero is available and he’ll come into the selection. Mathoho is suspended, so we’ll discuss about bringing somebody in,” said the coach.
“You could see changes in midfield, there could be changes in the back four, possibly in the front unit, in the shape of the team, in goalkeeping and on the bench.”
At training, former AmaZulu left back Sifiso Hlanti was heavily involved in the build-up drills, and it won’t be a surprise if the free-kick specialist sneaks in ahead of Tebogo Langerman in Baxter’s more attacking selection.