Baxter’s Lack of Imagination Will Be His Own Undoing at Bafana
By Katlego Mereko
Of four Nigeria defenders, three were taller than our lankiest attacker, Lebogang Mothiba, and yet Bafana Bafana’s main attacking outlet in Wednesday’s AFCON quarterfinal clash was hoofing obscure long balls upfront, to very little success unsurprisingly. This is a damning indictment for a coach who has been in the managerial game for more than three decades.
While there has been something of an improvement in Bafana Bafana’s results since the Brit took over the reins in 2017, the revolution he was supposed to instigate in the national team has come tragically short and will be further amplified by the loss against the Super Eagles.
Baxter’s boys were impressive on the weekend against tournament hosts Egypt, but that proved nothing more than illusion of the team’s capabilities. They flattered to deceive when the country wanted to believe they could go all the way, but it wasn’t to be.
For much of Baxter’s second tenure on the national team bench, Bafana Bafana has had to face a tirade of criticism for their uninspiring style of play. It has been not different since the beginning of their AFCON campaign, where they scored three goals and conceded four in five matches.
South Africa’s performance in this AFCON can be summed up as mostly fearful, prosaic, one-dimensional and inadequate. The win against Egypt has done well to obfuscate the team less than impressive group run, but as the axiom goes, lies have very short legs.
The fixture against Nigeria last night should prove to all and sundry that the national team’s progress will be sorely limited should Baxter remain at helm due to his unimaginative style of play. The Englishman, who is Scottish by descent, played an unchanged line up against Nigeria when all else seemed to suggest that some tweaks in personnel would serve the team better.
The sexagenarian tried to replicate the tactics employed against Egypt, as against Namibia and Cote d’Ivoire before them. These were bound to fail as unchanged tactics and line-up presumes that the Nigerian coaching staff would not have done their homework on the surprise win against Egypt. Baxter was wrong, and the nation came out worse for it.
Percy Tau was shunted out wide by the Brilliant Nigerian defence, Mothiba was forced to fight for the ball and try collect it from deep, and Kamohelo Mokotjo maintained his lukewarm standards. Dean Furman, Baxter’s favourite player-in-chief was force to cover for underwhelming fullbacks, including Sifiso Hlanti, who was brilliant against Salah previously. The team simply failed to throw the kitchen sink when it mattered most, they failed to show up.
Many players on the bench will surely feel hard done by after having to endure Baxter’s favouritism, which compounds the problem, when they probably could have done a better job on the field. But that could’ve proved to be untrue as the coach’s tactics are Bafana’s ultimate betrayer.
Baxter’s faithful adherence to regressive tactics will be his undoing at Bafana Bafana, and even though he will remain a well-respected coach for his achievements in South African football, many fans would not complain if he is shown the door by a similarly shambolic SAFA administration.