JOHANNESBURG: What should have been a chance for Bafana Bafana to shoot to the top of Group D of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers in back-to-back matches against Cape Verde has turned into an absolute nightmare following successive defeats.
But has coach Stuart Baxter learnt anything? In case he hasn’t, here are the three things Independent Media football writer Mazola Molefe picked up.
Baxter too set in his ways
You can’t blame him, his domestic record at Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United probably allows him some leeway in sticking to what he believes works. But the national team is a different kettle of fish, and Baxter should know that.
The Scotsman believes that if you are to make changes to a starting line-up, it shouldn’t be more than 60 percent. That was the logic behind retaining some of the players who had been in the starting XI away to Cape Verde in Praia.
The truth, however, is that Tuesday night’s desperate situation called for a desperate measure, and Baxter needed a bit more than five changes to his line-up in search of maximum points.
He will say that we have the benefit of hindsight in analysing the abysmal performance over the two qualifiers, but is that not the nature of the beast? Nobody is there to hold him accountable when he makes the decisions, so all that is left is for his final work to be scrutinised - win or lose.
It’s fair that the coach didn’t want to do away with the hard work he’d put in while plotting Bafana’s first ever win against Nigeria in a competitive match in June. But to delay the introduction of Percy Tau in the first match against Cape Verde at the Estadio Nacional last Friday, opting to bring in Bradley Grobler to link up play when Bafana were chasing the game at 2-1 seemed odd.
He repeated the same tactical change in the home leg as Lebogang Manyama, who was one of the worst performers for the national team on Friday, got the nod ahead of young Tau. Baxter also had to answer questions on why, when his side was again trailing, he made the call to have a three-man midfield of Dean Furman, Hlompho Kekana and Andile Jali instead of a more offensive strategy.
His argument was that Jali was an attacking option, and may have been proven right when it was Jali who pulled one goal back in the dying minutes of the game to give Bafana hope that they could perhaps salvage a point. Another bone of contention was that of Furman being on the pitch when it was clear that the substitutes were much stronger. In a must-win clash, Baxter’s approach was dubious at best and left all of us reeling and asking whether he was actually still the right man for the job.
Bafana still undermine minnows
You’d be hard pressed to find a sign that Baxter’s men were arrogant and convinced they had the beating of Cape Verde prior to the trip to Praia, and even more so the home leg in Durban. But it would appear they hid it well. The public perception that the islanders were the whipping boys in Group D and that not only were they hit by several withdrawals and injuries, coach Lucio Antunes only had to work with 12 players in his team's first training session last week, could have forced Bafana to let their guard down.
This is also part of Bafana’s DNA - a team that looks down on their little-known opponents as evidenced by previous results against Gambia and Mauritania, not so long ago under former coach Shakes Mashaba.
Now Baxter appears to have failed in ridding the national team of that mindset despite warning against that same superiority complex when he named his squad to face the Blue Sharks last month.