Bax­ter pon­ders space-time

With Su­per Ea­gles us­ing a high-press­ing gameplan, Bafana Bafana coach has cal­cu­lated an equa­tion to re­store equi­lib­rium ...

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MAZOLA MOLEFE @su­per­journo

BAFANA Bafana coach Stu­art Bax­ter may have be­moaned hav­ing just four train­ing ses­sions – squeezed in care­fully to avoid over­load­ing his play­ers – prior to de­par­ture to Nige­ria yes­ter­day af­ter­noon to face the Su­per Ea­gles in a 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions qual­i­fier on Satur­day, but the Scots­man be­lieves he used them to good ef­fect.

With Nige­ria adopt­ing a new DNA un­der Ger­not Rohr, the 63-year-old Ger­man coach who took over in Au­gust last year, Bax­ter got his play­ers to work in con­fined spa­ces to counter the op­po­si­tion’s high-press­ing game and also drilled it into his men to stay fo­cused in crit­i­cal phases of the match as Bafana have been known to con­cede late goals, like they did in Oua­gadougou which al­lowed Burk­ina Faso to earn a pre­cious point in their open­ing 2018 World Cup qual­i­fier in Oc­to­ber last year.

“I think they (Nige­ria) are a play­ing team,” said Bax­ter yes­ter­day morn­ing. “They’ve got a lot of play­ers who want the ball at their feet, and they at­tack the spa­ces be­cause they have got the speed. If they build up, they will at­tack the spa­ces in be­tween and be­hind our play­ers in the last third. Maybe they don’t have the ex­treme phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the ear­lier Nige­rian teams, but I think they are still quite phys­i­cal in their ap­proach to the game – they want to press the ball im­me­di­ately af­ter los­ing it and they want to get in your face. I am sure they would want to drive the tempo of the game. I am hop­ing there is a bit of phys­i­cal­ity be­cause then our own mo­bil­ity and speed will come to the fore.”

The coach nod­ded in agree­ment to a ques­tion about an­other crit­i­cal phase that needs a lot of at­ten­tion: Bafana can’t seem to pro­tect a lead.

“I think when we have con­ceded late it was a lit­tle bit of anx­i­ety. We have spo­ken a lot about this,” Bax­ter ex­plained. “It is look­ing at the clock, and you stop play­ing to a cer­tain de­gree. You start hop­ing and stop believ­ing. I think we’ve just got to be braver and ask how do we man­age the game. There are cer­tain things you can do, but what you try and avoid is just be­ing there on the pitch and not have a plan. I think if we keep play­ing for the 90 min­utes and there are five or six min­utes more, we have to keep on play­ing. We have dealt with a sit­u­a­tion where we are lead­ing in train­ing and I sent one player off and asked the play­ers to pro­tect the lead and I thought they did it very well. So, we have ap­proached that. And if we have to park the bus, we will. But a lot of that will de­pend on what Nige­ria do.”

Bafana will re­turn from Uyo early on Monday morn­ing and im­me­di­ately travel to Rusten­burg for a friendly in­ter­na­tional against Zam­bia, but Bax­ter wasn’t swing­ing on the chan­de­liers with con­fir­ma­tion of a fix­ture that is al­most mean­ing­less. Nige­ria man­aged to or­gan­ise two matches, against Cor­sica and Togo, sev­eral days be­fore this week­end’s Africa Cup of Na­tions qual­i­fier.

“It’s an im­por­tant game in terms of de­vel­op­ment, the long term and the big­ger pic­ture. Some of the younger play­ers that have worked hard in this camp, will get a run against Zam­bia be­cause they deserve and we want to see them,” said Bax­ter. “I would have pre­ferred it be be­fore the Nige­ria game ... but that is not pos­si­ble, so I am not go­ing to cry about that.”

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