PRAIA, Cape Verde - At 5am local time yesterday, Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter couldn’t sleep.
If you know the Scotsman and you waged a bet on what had him twisting and turning at the crack of dawn, then you are probably on the money in concluding he was overloaded with information ahead of yet another crucial clash in his tenure so far.
Bafana face Group D whipping boys Cape Verde at the Estadio Nacional de Cabo Verde, also known as the "Blue Shark Arena" on Friday night (8.30pm kickoff) in a 2018 World Cup qualifier, and for the coach this encounter is not simply the routine victory it’s been advertised to be.
“We shouldn’t think we can come here, bring our C game and think we are going to walk away with three World Cup points. That won’t happen,” Baxter said.
“They are good enough to beat people here. I have watched all their games. Burkina Faso (current Group D log leaders) came here and, I won’t say got free gifts, but got a header from a corner in the third minute and then in a transition where the centre-back passed the ball straight to their centre forward. Apart from that it was a pretty even game, with Cape Verde having a couple of big chances.”
Perhaps also occupying Baxter’s mind was whether he’d go ahead and play striker Tokelo Rantie, who only arrived on Wednesday night from Turkey and missed one of the two training sessions at the match venue.
Tokelo Rantie has joined his team mates in Praia, Cape Verde pic.twitter.com/FXnfI0KzGf
“After talking to him and seeing his boarding passes and all of that, it looks like the airline made a huge mistake. He was at the gate at 4am, got checked in and then they told him he is actually booked on a flight for the next day, even though he had a boarding pass to be on that flight. The next day he got a different airline and had to go to Lisbon (Portugal) and when he tried to get his bags out he couldn’t because he didn’t have a visa for Lisbon.”
Having now gathered the facts regarding his key striker’s late arrival, Baxter said starting him was a no-brainer, especially on the back of his superb performance away to Nigeria two months ago, where Bafana won with Rantie scoring the opener in a 2-0 victory.
“It was important for me to establish that it wasn’t his fault and I said to him there was a bit of a cloud before I brought him back (the player failed to show up in Burkina Faso in October last year). I certainly didn’t want to see that cloud getting dark again,” the coach said.
“That is the good news. The bad news is that he arrived with some flu symptoms. But he says he is 100 percent ready to play. He is a threat and one we want on the field if we can get him on the pitch of course. He is important because he works in behind their back four and doesn’t allow the opponent to squeeze and compress the game against us.”
Baxter said he did not expect the hosts to sit back and absorb a high pressing game from their visitors. “I think they will have a bit of a go at us. They will play very much down the flanks, not totally gung-ho. I have worked with the fullbacks to expect that. And I think the players are aware how important this game is. We just have to make sure we stay in the here and now and not get carried away two miles down the road,” Baxter said.