Stuart Baxter wants his players, led by captain Thulani Hlatshwayo, to exploit the pressure Nigeria will be feeling to win their opening home 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Bafana Bafana in Uyo today.
Some of the Bafana players have talked down Nigeria – whom South Africa have never beaten in a competitive game – as having lost some of their air of invincibility ahead of the Cameroon 2019 qualifier at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium (kickoff: 5pm Nigeria time, 6pm in SA).
But Baxter feels his opposite number, German coach Gernot Rohr, has got his balance right in a squad where established stars Brown Idehe, Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel have been left out or are injured, and which retains a balance of European-based names and emerging talent.
“It’s a tough game. I think they’re doing it right,” Baxter said about his opponents in a daunting first encounter after replacing Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba as Bafana coach.
“They’ve weeded out a few of the egos. Rohr’s going with talented star players, with experience from the big leagues, and even the youngsters are doing well at their respective clubs. “So think he’s getting enough
Ienergy from the youngsters, enough experience, and the ones that are the stars and not carrying big egos.
“Now, at home, in such an important game, even though they’ve been doing well, they know they’ve got to win this one. They can’t screw up.
“And I want our lads to make sure that in the critical phase in the beginning of the game, they stand strong. And we bring the pressure to bear to get Nigeria thinking, ‘We haven’t cracked them yet’.
“And they start looking at the clock, and taking risks and playing a bit too clever. And then, maybe, we’ve got them.
“And if we get the upper hand I want us to stamp the foot on the throat, and don’t let them up.”
Nigeria had a three-week camp in France for this game, beating Togo 3-0 in a warm-up in Paris and drawing 1-1 against a Corsican XI in Ajaccio.
Baxter was appointed officially a month ago, and has had a week’s preparation broken by a gruelling 24-hour trip to Uyo via an overnight stay in Lagos.
But the coach’s sessions have been lively and competitive, the players have looked in fine spirits – as they usually are at the start of a new coach’s tenure – and Baxter has tailor-made his sessions to the intelligence he has gained on Nigeria.
“You get to a point where the game’s tomorrow, and the preparations have gone as well as can be expected,” the coach said.
“And yes, you’d like more time and, yes, you’d like practice games, and yes, yes, yes. But with what we’ve had, I’m pleased.
“The players’ attitude has been excellent. There has been a good vibe all the time. “And I think we’re as well prepared as we can be, within the constraints that we’ve had.”
Bafana and Nigeria are drawn in Group E of Afcon qualifying with Libya and Seychelles.– TMG Digital/TMG Sport