Testing start for Bafana’s Baxter

Stuart Baxter
Picture: TimesLIVE

Wits defender Hlatshwayo chosen to skipper side against Nigerians

Newly appointed Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter faces a tough baptism when he officially steps into the boiling and unpredictable cauldron that is Nigeria on Saturday.

Baxter was appointed last month and the tricky 2019 African Nations Cup showdown against the Nigerians will be the Briton’s first match in the Bafana dugout.

The new national team mentor could not have asked for a more challenging first assignment as Bafana have never beaten their old foes in an official match after years of trying.

Baxter said Bidvest Wits defender Thulani Hlatshwayo would captain the side going forward.

Besides attempting to mastermind a maiden official win over the old enemy in a hostile environment‚ Baxter is also facing an injury headache that could force him to alter his plans before Bafana’s departure to Nigeria tomorrow afternoon.

Team doctor Thulani Ngwenya said yesterday that seven players arrived in camp on Sunday carrying an assortment of injuries.

Lebogang Manyama (knee)‚ Andile Jali (groin)‚ Tokelo Rantie (toe bone contusion and knee)‚ Tiyani Mabunda (ankle sprain)‚ Aubrey Ngoma (groin)‚ Rivaldo Coetzee (hamstring) and Eric Mathoho (concussion) are all in the sick bay.

“In terms of who is likely or not likely to play‚ it would not be fair for me to say right now‚” Ngwenya said.

“For me‚ we will do our level best in terms of treating all of them.”

Baxter said it would be disastrous if some of the players ended up going to hospital.

“We are obviously hoping that they are all fit because they have just arrived in camp. It would be a minor disaster if people come to camp and then go straight to hospital.”

Nigeria have been in camp since last month and Baxter is well aware that Bafana have got out of the starting blocks a lot later than their rivals.

“We have got very little time [to prepare] in comparison to Nigeria’s three weeks in France in training camps.

“The reports I got from Nigeria is that offensively they are very strong‚ defensively they all work very hard. They are on a good run of results‚ so they look very confident.

“So the way we are going to play is very‚ very much to try and be the biggest problem we can be‚ to be the nightmare that they do not want.

“I think that sometimes it is about maybe not playing your best move but playing the move that your opponent doesn’t want.

“So we are not fazed and we respect the Nigerians because they have quality in their team.

“But the meeting we had [on Sunday with the players] showed that we do not feel that we are just going there to make up the numbers. Far from it.”

Baxter acknowledged that his preparations had not gone the way he would have wanted‚ given that Bafana have to find a result away from home against tricky opponents who have had a longer time in camp.

“What we have got is not 100% perfect and I hope going forward we will hit the spot better. None of that is meant as an excuse‚ that is just information we have got for you guys.”

Baxter will be assisted by SA under-20 coach Thabo Senong‚ SA under-17 mentor Molefi Ntseki and his goalkeeper coach will be Alex Heredia.

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