Out to win our hearts

Vic­tory will put Baxter in the driv­ing seat and earn him SA’s sup­port

CityPress - - Sport - TIMOTHY MOLOBI timothy@city­press.co.za

New Bafana Bafana coach Stu­art Baxter has a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to win South Africans’ hearts on Satur­day. Baxter could not have asked for a bet­ter welcome than a game against Nige­ria – South Africa’s foot­ball neme­sis.

These ri­vals meet in the open­ing 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions qual­i­fier at Godswill Ak­pabio In­ter­na­tional Sta­dium in Uyo.

The game is ar­guably the tough­est of the group (which in­cludes Libya and the Sey­chelles) for Bafana, and Baxter is hop­ing to get off to a win­ning start, which will def­i­nitely put him in an en­vi­able po­si­tion as he would be­come the first coach to stop the Su­per Ea­gles’ stran­gle­hold on Bafana.

In fact, Baxter is the only Bafana coach to have beaten Nige­ria – al­beit in a friendly game – back in 2004.

With his sec­ond com­ing re­ceiv­ing mixed re­ac­tions from lo­cals, Baxter has a chance to prove to his de­trac­tors that he is the best man for the job.

But he knows that he is up against a resur­gent side that is still smart­ing af­ter miss­ing two pre­vi­ous edi­tions of the tour­na­ment.

Two years ago, Bafana were the rea­son Nige­ria failed to de­fend their ti­tle in Equa­to­rial Guinea.

Al­though statis­tics point to Nige­ria’s dom­i­nance with seven wins in 12 out­ings, Baxter would hope history does not re­peat it­self.

Un­der pre­vi­ous coach Ephraim Mashaba, Bafana came close to end­ing Nige­ria’s hoodoo, but al­lowed the Su­per Ea­gles to come back from 2-0 down to force a draw.

The English­man has re­called that game’s two-goal hero, Tokelo Rantie, to the squad, hop­ing the Gençler­bir­liği SK striker will be able to con­tinue where he left off against Nige­ria.

Rantie had not been called to the na­tional team since he snubbed the call up when Bafana went to Burk­ina Faso last year.

Baxter called on his play­ers to be pre­pared for any­thing in Nige­ria.

“We need war­riors for this game; play­ers who can fight and not be in­tim­i­dated,” said Baxter last week.

With seven play­ers in­volved in club com­pe­ti­tions this weekend, Baxter will be hop­ing they join the na­tional team un­scathed. Their in­volve­ment ham­pered Baxter’s prepa­ra­tions as he had wanted to start his camp early.

Baxter said he would know a lot about Nige­ria by the time the match kicks off on Satur­day af­ter get­ting his con­tact in Manch­ester to get him an in­tel­li­gence re­port on Nige­ria’s two friendly matches in Europe.

Nige­ria warmed up for this match with a 3-0 vic­tory over Togo on Thurs­day night in Paris.

Baxter knows that a win on Satur­day will go a long way to earn­ing him more sup­port­ers.

PHOTO: LEFTY SHIVAMBU / GALLO IM­AGES

SEC­OND COM­ING Stu­art Baxter is hop­ing for a good start

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