JOHANNESBURG – While Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter did not make drastic changes in his first squad selection, one that will face Nigeria next month in their opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, how he sets the team up will be a far cry from how his predecessor Shakes Mashaba used to operate.
Already Baxter has spoken openly about having a Manchester United scout give him a full report of the Super Eagles from their two friendly matches in France against Corsica (yesterday) and Togo on Thursday.
The coach has claimed he has gathered as much “intelligence” as possible on Bafana’s June 10 opposition.
Mashaba often argued that spying on the opponents was secondary.
On paper, Baxter’s 25-man squad doesn’t look that much different to the one picked by then-caretaker coach Owen da Gama for friendlies against Guinea-Bissau and Angola.
But with Bongani Zungu, Tokelo Rantie and Thamsanqa Gabuza returning, Baxter has indicated he may toy around with a few formations in the build-up to the trip to Uyo.
“Even at SuperSport United (where he remains head coach until the end of June), we were able to adapt to several patterns. I think this season alone we used about three, depending on who our opponents are,” said Baxter.
“I think you have to look at which areas of the team will give you that warrior mentality. The spine of the team is going to have to be a strong mentality – you keep your centre-backs, your centre-midfield and your shadow striker, if you go with one or two.
“I think we can get at them (Nigeria) with our wide players, who are very quick. We can turn them over quickly, that is why I am interested in Tokelo Rantie.
“I’ve not got the team set in stone in my mind now, but I have an idea and want the camp to support my idea – what will work and what won’t work.”
Thulani Hlatshwayo and Mulomowandau Mathoho are strong contenders to be paired at centre-back, while Ramahlwe Mphahlele is an obvious choice at right back.
With Sifiso Hlanti having been a key part of Wits’ title-winning campaign at left back, Tebogo Langerman, who has gained experience on the continent with Sundowns, isn’t necessarily an easy pick for Baxter.
The midfield is overloaded with hard grafters, fetchers and ball players like Hlompho Kekana, Dean Furman, Zungu and Andile Jali.
The coach didn’t want to over-promise by saying Bafana would win, but there were few doubts whether he’d selected a squad that can go to Uyo and return home with three points.
“Nigeria is the strongest opposition we can get,” said Baxter. “Is it a disaster if we lose? No. We have to look at the positives. We are going to Nigeria to do our best to win. Nobody should be under the illusion we are going there to sell ourselves very dearly.
“If we win, it’s fantastic, if we draw, it’s not a bad result. We want at least a point. We won’t try to shut up shop, and we should not go there scared to lose.”
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune, Ronwen Williams, Darren Keet.
Defenders: Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Tebogo Langerman, Sifiso Hlanti, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Mulomowandau Mathoho, Rivaldo Coetzee, Lorenzo Gordinho, Abbubaker Mobara.
Midfielders: Dean Furman, Hlompho Kekana, Keagan Dolly, Andile Jali, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Themba Zwane, Bongani Zungu, Aubrey Ngoma.
Strikers: Tokelo Rantie, Percy Tau, Lebogang Manyama, Kermit Erasmus, Thamsanqa Gabuza, Sibusiso Vilakazi.