#GREENDAY BAXTER CALM AS PRESSURE BUILDS
STUART Baxter has managed to remain calm in the face of incredible adversity ahead of the first of two important fixtures in which a positive outcome decides Bafana Bafana’s 2018 World Cup fate.
A drama-filled week started when the coach told reporters that goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and captain Thulani Hlatshwayo were doubtful, before revealing another bombshell: Thulani Serero had asked to be excused from the national team camp because of a lack of game time.
Then midfielder Hlompho Kekana had to immediately rush home following the death of a close family member, while some of the overseas-based players were delayed in their arrival here.
Baxter has wrestled with that all week, while also concocting a game plan that will sink Group D leaders Senegal here at the Peter Mokaba Stadium – the first hurdle before they travel to Dakar for the away leg on Tuesday.
“The first thing that the players want is that they should have a coach that they need, not the coach that they get on the day,” Baxter said.
“I have to work through past experience and draw on the things that I’ve learnt.
“I have to make sure I am the coach they need in terms of selection and not walk around looking like I am having a semi heart attack.
“Have I been in the exact same situation like this? Not really, but I have been in a lot of pressure situations. Big games. Champions League or international games, where you only get one stab at it. And we only got one go at the Burkina Faso game and won. That’s remembered.
“And that was a massive game. Without that result and performance, we were not going to be in this situation. But we can’t concentrate more because this means more.
“That’s not how it works.”
Bafana have to beat Senegal tonight (7pm kick-off) to avoid their trip to Dakar being a dead rubber.
Khune could still be in the starting line-up, but skipper Hlatshwayo was all but ruled out by the coach yesterday morning.
Baxter admitted that all that’s happened in the build-up to tonight’s match had him feeling like a “pregnant lady about to give birth”.
He said: “I think people have enjoyed this. You guys (the press) like it because it gives you something to write about, the fans like it because when they are sitting in the shebeen they have got something to argue about. And in some masochistic way, I think even the players enjoy it.
“Maybe they think we have to go through this before we settle.
“I am the only one who doesn’t seem to like it because all this time I am like a pregnant lady about to give birth.”
A win will certainly give Bafana hope that they can reach the World Cup in Russia next year, especially after all hope was lost two months ago following a shambolic performance dished out in Praia against Cape Verde and in the home leg in Durban against the same team.
Those two back-to-back defeats (a 2-1 scoreline in both) left Bafana’s hopes hanging by the thinnest of threads.
Baxter had a surprise element in store for Burkina Faso in last month’s emphatic 3-1 victory at the Calabash, and has certainly been forced to come up with one for tonight’s match, partly because of the injuries, suspensions and Serero’s shock withdrawal from the national team on the day he was expected to arrive.
“What happens with all this ‘drama’ is that you lose focus on the things that will actually win us the game. You are out there trying to put things back into place,” Baxter said.
“The only thing you need to try and do is make sure you have a basic focus and attitude of wanting to keep your mind on the job.”