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What did Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter do wrong against Senegal?

11:58 EAT 12/11/2017
Stuart Baxter
Following Bafana's recent failure, Goal looks at where coach Baxter got it all wrong

Bafana Bafana suffered a 2-0 defeat to Senegal on Friday night, signalling the end of Stuart Baxter and his men’s 2018 Fifa World Cup aspirations.

While Bafana Bafana put on a valiant effort, dominating the game at times, they were yet again found wanting, and in the aftermath of Friday’s sorrowful defeat, Goal breaks down what went wrong for Bafana on the night.

Firstly, it’s important to note that coach Baxter’s preparations had been hampered severely by a sense of uncertainty and instability.

While this cannot be an excuse, Thulani Serero’s snub would surely have been a major blow considering his domestic form with Vitesse Arnhem, and with Bongani Zungu suspended he would have been the ideal player to take over the creative duties.

However, with Serero’s rejection, Lebogang Manyama was thrown in to play as the second striker to Percy Tau. The Konyaspor attacker lacked sharpness despite being denied twice in the first half - one by virtue of the crossbar and another by a spectacular save by the goalkeeper.

But he was rather ineffective for most part. This should have been expected though, as Manyama is still finding his feet in the Turkish Super Lig, and inevitably lacked the required sharpness.

Baxter perhaps should have opted for Bradley Grobler or even Dino Ndlovu, who not only had goals in them but had the physicality to compete with powerful Senegal defence. So, it was the case of team selection on the side of Baxter.

Another shortcoming on Baxter’s front was Sibusiso Vilakazi’s inclusion. Granted that the Mamelodi Sundowns attacker starred in Bafana’s previous outing against Burkina Faso, this time out he was absent for most of the encounter.

His poor decision making hampered Bafana’s attacking options and at times, he was guilty of holding onto the ball for far too long.

Nonetheless, Baxter’s attacking options were limited. So, he could be forgiven for taking a risk by fielding the 27-year-old, but it should also be mentioned that despite Baxter’s mistakes he deserves to be commended for the midfield partnership of Kamohelo Mokotjo and Dean Furman. The duo were arguably Bafana’s best performers on the night as their dogged work ethic and composure gave the attack the freedom to express themselves.

Although, Baxter will need to answer for the team’s loss, the players also need to take responsibility. Cape Town City full-back Thamsanqa Mkhize was a far cry from the defender who earned rave reviews on debut as he battled throughout the encounter.

Mkhize clearly had a night to forget as he was unlucky to have bundled the ball into his own net for Senegal’s second but also, he was partly responsible for the first as he and Morgan Gould were caught napping allowing Sadio Mane to superbly pick out Diafra Sakho with a defence splitting pass.

Baxter’s conservative tactics also did not help matters as it allowed the Lions of Teranga to put them on the back foot, especially during the opening half, where the pace and power of the likes of Mane and Sakho caused the experienced defensive pairing of Clayton Daniels and Gould all sorts of problems.

At times during the opening minutes, Bafana’s game plan resembled a nervy and very ‘English minded’ approach to football as the long ball was consistently utilised.

Ask anyone what is Percy Tau’s strength on the football pitch and you will possibly hear the words pace and creativity, but on Friday, it seemed that the 23-year-old with a diminutive frame was expected to hold up the ball with Senegal’s lanky defenders towering over him. Tau, though deserved credit as he battled courageously despite it being a losing battle.

A final criticism of the English-born tactician was his pragmatic approach to turning things around. If Bafana had any chance of turning things around, the 64-year-old could have changed things around at half-time, but he failed to do it, opting to wait until the usual hour-mark.

Perhaps introducing a youngster like Phakamani Mahlambi could have also made all the difference, but this is all in hindsight. At the end of the day, Bafana should never have found themselves in this position in the first place, especially considering the position they were in prior to the two defeats which they suffered against Cape Verde.

The Bafana hierarchy as well as football administrators will now need to do much soul searching. Should a team who could not beat Cape Verde, have even had any right to be challenging for a place among the elite of world football?

These are all questions that the South African Football Association (Safa) will need to ask themselves as they plot the way forward. What is worrying though, is Baxter’s record over his two stints.

Following Friday’s loss Baxter has amassed a disappointing nine losses, 14 wins and six draws in 29 competitive matches, which certainly begs the question, is Baxter still the right man for the job?