NEW BAFANA Bafana coach Stuart Baxter’s success as a coach is founded on sound organisation and tactical discipline. As was evident during his tenure at Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United, his philosophy is all about defensive shape and structure – and, with that as the platform, teams can go in search of victory.
But, as the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Nigeria away in Uyo looms large on Saturday, the big question is: Has Baxter had enough time to inculcate this strategy into the Bafana squad? Because there is no doubt that Nigeria’s great strength is in attack and the South Africans are going to need the new coach’s defence-first, counterattack approach to combat the super-talented Super Eagles.
While Baxter has only recently stepped into the Bafana hot seat, and is already dealing with an injury crisis in the squad, Nigeria’s German tactician Gernot Rohr has been hard at work in preparing his squad with training camps and friendly games in Corsica and Paris.
Rohr surprised by omitting Chelsea star Victor Moses from his squad, but such is the talent at Nigeria’s disposal that the English Premiership title-winner’s absence probably won’t be felt all that much. Moses is expected to undergo toe surgery soon.
Earlier this week, Baxter named Wits defender Thulani Hlatshwayo as the new Bafana captain. Nicknamed “Tyson” because of his fearless commitment, the skipper, and his defence, will have to be on their toes to deal with Nigeria’s highly-touted attackers.
Here, takes a look at Nigeria’s danger men. Football, though, is not just about offence and goals, which is why for the above-mentioned players to have the space and freedom to shine, they need to have a solid defensive foundation. And it’s here where 20-year-old Leicester City central midfielder Wilfred Ndidi is a vital cog in the Nigerian machine. Having made his name at Genk in Belgium, he arrived at Leicester last season as the “new N’golo Kante”. It took a while to settle, but, once he was accustomed to the pace of the English game, he quickly gave notice that he’s a defensive midfielder to watch. And for his industry and contribution, Ndidi was named as Leicester’s Young Player of the Season. If Iwobi, Musa, Iheanacho and Onyekuru are to have an influence on the game, then Ndidi’s combative presence behind them will be crucial.