Amid a number of injury withdrawals and claims of nepotism directed at Stuart Baxter, Bafana Bafana need to focus on securing three points against Libya if they are to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, writes MARSHALL GOUTS.
Following our failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup (for the umpteenth time), local football enthusiasts are all too keen to see Bafana qualify for the continental spectacle that is Afcon. The urgency of the matter is amplified given that Bafana also failed to qualify for the last Nations Cup tournament in 2017 under then coach Shakes Mashaba.
That proved to be the second-last straw for Mashaba, who was suspended for publicly lambasting his employees on television in an infamous rant.
Baxter, also in his second tenure as Bafana coach, may not have hit out at Safa like Mashaba did, however, there seems to have been a notable change in his attitude since our failure to qualify for the World Cup.
The closer the sacking seems in sight, the more the truth comes out. Or maybe, I am just clutching at straws – given that I had expected Baxter to get the boot after failing to qualify for Russia 2018.
We later learned that the former Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United mentor’s ‘mandate was never about qualifying for the world cup’, but rather about progress.
Fast forward a few months later – South Africa face The Mediterranean Knights in their second Afcon qualifier following their 2-0 victory over Nigeria in Uyo in June last year, which was ironically Baxter’s second debut for Bafana.
The current squad has been dealt a number of injury blows such as Bongani Zungu, Hlompho Kekana, Themba Zwane and Lebogang Mothiba, causing Baxter to make a number of replacements.
@BafanaBafana replacements: Vincent Pule (Pirates), Aubrey Modiba (Supersport), Tiyani Mabunda (Sundowns) in for injured Zwane, Zungu and Kekana respectively. Question mark still on Lebo Mothiba as Baxter waits for scan results from his club @SAFA_net
— Bafana Bafana (@BafanaBafana) September 3, 2018
But it isn’t the growing injury concerns that suggest that the wheels are coming off for Baxter. Allegations of nepotism was directed his way after he opted to rope in his son, Lee Baxter as the team’s goalkeeper coach to replace Andre Arendse, who pulled out at the last-minute to attend family matters.
‘I have to say that I’ll be massively, massively surprised if there is any reaction whatsoever,’ the 63-year-old told the media.
‘Lee has worked with me in Turkey and at SuperSport United, and [AmaZulu fitness trainer] Joshua Smith in the technical team. He’s the current coach of Itu [Itumeleng Khune]. He has worked with Ronza [Ronwen Williams] and he knows probably half the squad.
‘We don’t have time to go wandering around the country interviewing people, bringing people in,’ he said.
While the majority of what Baxter may have stated could be true, one can understand why his decision could be construed as nepotism. The manner in which he addressed the media regarding the appointment leaves much to be desired. I mean how can you question a public outcry if you appoint your son?
What is becoming evidently clear is that the pragmatic approach by Baxter has been replaced by a more honest and impulsive one, perhaps indicative of his growing frustration with Safa.
His latest qualm was about the decision to change the venue for Bafana’s clash against Libya, which was said to be due to financial constraints.
‘I’ve always enjoyed playing in Durban – until Cape Verde‚ I suppose‚’ he told the media.
‘But the venue‚ as a sea-level venue for sea-level people‚ I suppose you would want to take them to altitude.
‘I was told that was impossible.
‘I don’t want to go into the reasons and whys and wherefores. We’re here. We’re playing the game here,’ he concluded.
The two sides who are set do duty for the first time ever will clash at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday with kickoff set for 3pm.