JOHANNESBURG – Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter may be engulfed with a sense of pride that he’ll finally be in the dugout of the national team in a major tournament, but he concedes it is all about the team than personal achievements.
Baxter has had a long roller-coaster marriage with the South African Football Association. In his first reign at Bafana from 2004-2005, the British coach failed to inspire the South Africans to the 2006 Fifa World Cup, although a few days later, he led his charges to the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations. But even that didn’t save him from the axe as Safa sent Ted Dimitru to the continental showpiece in Egypt.
Back for his second stint at the helm, Baxter failed to inspire his troops to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, while he dug deep to ensure that they’d be the country’s flag bearers in the 2019 Afcon.
This time around, the 65-year-old coach will be responsible for barking the instructions from Bafana’s technical area in the land of the Pharaohs in the tournament starting on June 21.
“Going to it, I am looking forward to it, definitely. For me, I’m proud to take the national team to the Afcon. I’ve qualified with the ones before and didn’t go, but I am proud to be going this time and I am looking forward to it,” Baxter said.
“Looking for revenge normally digs two graves and I don’t want to do that. My focus has been on preparing the team properly and I don’t think personal agendas have to come into it.
“I can feel proud but I don’t want it to become a bloated, excessive pride; that looks like arrogance.”
With Baxter’s men in a tough Group D that has heavyweights Morocco and Ivory Coast, as well as underrated Namibia, it will take mental endurance for the former Kaizer Chiefs tactician to guide his team to the knockout stage.
Considering that Baxter has assembled his best available players - missing Keagan Dolly to a groin injury and overseas-based duo Nikola Tavares and Joel Untersee to pending travel documents - then it’s safe to say that Bafana will fancy their chances.
Baxter is, however, hoping that his players can quickly adapt from their club football mindset to the demands of the national team.
“They’ve all been with their clubs and they haven’t played for the national team for a long time,” he said.
“They’ve just come back and they need to put their national team hats back on; they’ve got to think the way we think. Maybe set-play, defending, attacking and how well we use the ball are different. They need to get used to that again. That takes time but they’ve been doing nicely.”
However, that blending has to happen in unfavourable conditions for Baxter considering that they have only two confirmed build-up friendly matches - Ghana in Dubai and Angola in Egypt.
Baxter will announce his final 23-man Afcon squad on Sunday, while Bafana leave for Dubai on Monday.@Mihlalibaleka