JOHANNESBURG - It may have been a hastily arranged tournament which Stuart Baxter could not stop moaning about, but the Bafana Bafana coach sounded ecstatic with what the national team got out of the Four Nations international friendlies they played in Ndola, Zambia.
Bafana were crowned champions after beating Angola 6-5 on penalties in their opening game on Wednesday and then thumping hosts Zambia, who also won on penalties to get past Zimbabwe, 2-0 on Saturday night.
Baxter said the tournament was extremely important in his “radical transformation” of the national team following his failure to guide Bafana to this year’s World Cup.
“We had a couple of kids playing from the start and when we were under a lot of pressure in the second half it would have been easy to take off Siphesihle (Ndlovu) and put on Dean Furman,” said the coach, who selected a squad with an average age of 25 for the event.
"It would have been easy for me to not put on Lebo (Mothiba) and not put on Ryan (Moon) and leave the more experienced ones on."
Baxter has certainty seen the fruits of a tournament that was planned last-minute, with the South African Football Association (Safa) turning down his request to take the team to the King’s Cup in Thailand around the same time.
“I could have taken off Teboho Mokoena instead of Kamohelo (Mokotjo) - you can do that, but our objective was to learn as much as we could with these players. And this was a high-pressure game for that. I think they dealt with it well and going forward we have to try and give them more and more international experience,” he explained.
“They need to know what to do when the coach gives instructions and we are under pressure to win a game. We always pick the best players when we are under pressure to win games, and when it goes wrong the cry is to bring in the kids, but when you bring them in they are not prepared - and they fail.
"So we are trying to deepen the squad and have a wide pool of players. We won’t do that unless we are prepared to take a chance on them. That is why I am delighted with their performance.”
Bafana Bafana with the Four Nations trophy they won in Zambia having beaten the hosts 2-0 at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium with goals from Tau & Mothiba pic.twitter.com/XMgq8ox2eW
Striker Mothiba would have stood out in this tournament having scored on debut for Bafana on Wednesday against Angola to force the match into penalties. He also found the back of the net again in the win over Zambia, the French-based forward coming off the bench to kill off the encounter in the referee’s optional time.
Asked if he’d be hoping to use the Cosafa Cup, which is scheduled before the World Cup in Russia, to continue blooding in the young players into the Bafana set-up, Baxter said he was less optimistic about that particular competition being the platform to do that.
“With all due respect to the Cosafa tournament, it comes at a time when we absolutely can’t get our best team together. For us we might have to look at the players that may be going to the next Olympic Games," he said.
"We can support them and maybe bring in a couple of old heads. That’s all we can do. This (Four Nations) was a much tougher test than Cosafa. This was a tight tournament. You can’t say we won it because we were so much better than everybody else - that’s just not true. I have enjoyed this one.”