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In­juries make it an un­happy re­turn for Baxter

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MA­ZOLA MOLEFE

STU­ART BAXTER was re­minded yes­ter­day that the chal­lenges of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball, even be­fore tak­ing charge of his first Bafana Bafana game as coach since re­turn­ing for a sec­ond spell, never re­ally went away dur­ing his 12 years as a club coach.

What was an ideal squad picked with the in­ten­tion of tor­ment­ing Nige­ria in their open­ing 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions Qual­i­fier in Uyo on Satur­day ap­pears to be dis­man­tling be­cause of in­juries, although team doc­tor Thu­lani Ng­wenya re­mained con­fi­dent that the Bafana med­i­cal team can avoid a catas­tro­phe.

Ng­wenya said that Eric Mathoho (con­cus­sion), Ri­valdo Coet­zee (ham­string), Andile Jali (groin), Tiyani Mabunda (an­kle), Aubrey Ngoma (groin), Le­bo­gang Manyama (knee) and Tokelo Rantie (swollen toe, knee) all ar­rived in camp with in­juries that needed to be care­fully as­sessed.

To add to what is clearly not a per­fect sce­nario, Nige­ria have been in camp for three weeks, man­ag­ing to squeeze in two friendly matches against Cor­sica and Togo, while Bafana only as­sem­bled on Sun­day as the coach couldn’t get the play­ers to re­port early due to spon­sor­ship com­mit­ments.

So it seems that Bafana are a lit­tle on the back­foot.

“We could have flagged this ear­lier,” said Baxter. “I think we all need to work harder at mak­ing sure the com­mu­ni­ca­tion is much bet­ter. Ob­vi­ously the clubs have not told us of these in­jury con­cerns be­cause they felt it was some­thing se­ri­ous enough to miss a na­tional team camp over.

“Our lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the clubs has been fol­lowed by our lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion about the play­ers. And we took that as the norm be­cause it has been hap­pen­ing in the past. The clubs have not been open as they should be. They are not be­ing bloody-minded, but that is how it has been.

“A lit­tle bit of open­ness can help us mov­ing for­ward. It would be a mi­nor dis­as­ter if play­ers are ar­riv­ing for camp and they go straight from the plane to hospi­tal.”

On the in­ter­na­tional stage, a cou­ple of vari­ables of­ten al­most de­ter­mine how Bafana will fare in a cru­cial qual­i­fier. Baxter would have been well aware, but hav­ing spent over a decade as a club coach fol­low­ing his first stint as Bafana head coach from 2004 to 2005 and kept up to speed with the day-to-day run­ning of who’s in and who’s out, the far from ideal prepa­ra­tion would have been un­set­tling and slightly an­noy­ing.

“We are not fazed,” the Bafana coach said, point­ing out that he had com­plete faith in the play­ers that re­main fit and, to an ex­tent, even those who could pos­si­bly be on standby should scans later on force more with­drawals.

Al­ready Baxter is with­out Hlom­pho Kekana and Kamo­h­elo Mokotjo, two in-form play­ers with the abil­ity to turn a game on its head. The Su­per Ea­gles are the kind of op­po­nent that needed Bafana to have this duo.

“We re­spect them (Nige­ria) be­cause of the qual­ity in the team and their re­cent long un­beaten run,” said Baxter. “I can’t lie and say it’s the team I vi­su­alised, but when we ar­rive in Nige­ria the lads will be up for it. They will prove and show they are South African in­ter­na­tion­als and ca­pa­ble of go­ing there to get a (pos­i­tive) re­sult.

“This is some sort of ad­ver­sity, but I have spo­ken to the play­ers about the pride of wear­ing this shirt. They are prob­a­bly sick of my voice now, but that is part of the job. Nige­ria are a top op­po­nent, but we are go­ing there to fight. Yes, we would have liked to have more time to pre­pare be­cause now the in­juries mean the train­ing ses­sions will be a bit like gym­nas­tics.

“But I have no doubt in my mind that we are go­ing to be able to adapt.”

Speak­ing of ad­just­ing, de­fender Thu­lani “Tyson” Hlatshwayo will also have to do just as much in his new role as Bafana cap­tain. The Wits skip­per was cho­sen by Baxter to be the leader of the team.

“I think he has all the qual­i­ties,” the 63-year-old coach said.

“He will be a per­ma­nent cap­tain be­cause I don’t be­lieve in ro­tat­ing the arm­band around be­cause it is some­thing that you tar­nish if you give it to 16 play­ers in one sea­son.

“‘Tyson’ has all the ex­pe­ri­ence in the PSL and in con­ti­nen­tal foot­ball as a whole. There is also the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing a group cap­tain and a team cap­tain. A group cap­tain can be some­one who helps speak for the team if there are any is­sues to be raised, and I don’t think ‘Tyson’ quite fan­cies that. Maybe Itume­leng Khune or Dean Fur­man wouldn’t mind those kind of things.”

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