Diamond Fields Advertiser - - SPORT - MAZOLA MOLEFE IN POLOK­WANE

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.”

Dead rub­ber

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.”


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