The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

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.

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