It’s round two for Bafana Bafana against Cape Verde on Tuesday night and Stuart Baxter’s men will be eager to avenge the result of last Friday’s clash in Praia, as they look to keep their 2018 Fifa World Cup hopes alive.
Ahead of the clash, journalist Yusuf Variava had an interesting chat with our Goal editor Ignat Manjoo, who shared his thoughts ahead of the clash.
YV: Tonight’s clash has been dubbed a must-win for Bafana if they hope to have any chance of qualifying for the Fifa World Cup in Russia. It has been widely reported that Baxter is likely to enforce several changes after his side’s dismal performance in Cape Verde, but in your opinion what needs to be done to guarantee a positive result?
IM: Frankly, at such a late stage I'm not so bothered about player names. By now every player should be ready to do the same job, the right job to get South Africa over the line. I could say that Dean Furman or Themba Zwane disappointed away, but maybe they were just having an off day and can now be more determined to step it up at home with the home supporters urging them on. However, from Stuart Baxter's interview, he hinted that he's going to make many changes, especially in midfield. I'd expect that to be the focus because we failed to control the game in Cape Verde. I personally would've liked to see Mokotjo or Kekana start, but Baxter can only start with three in the middle. I believe any combination of three can do the job. In SA there isn't a big difference between the choices.
YV: It’s a do or die fixture for South Africa, do you expect Bafana to come out of the gates all guns blazing or will Baxter stick to the percentage football which he is known for?
IM: I am more interested in our tempo for this home game. We saw Baxter's Bafana away to Nigeria and now away to Cape Verde. I'm not counting the experimental games. With Baxter's style it's about those moments in transition of regaining possession and getting into the dangerous spaces quickly with speed. I'm not enjoying watching this type of football but it can be very effective away from home. Shakes Mashaba was also getting results away, but failed to stamp his authority at home. I want to see whether Baxter's Bafana can dictate play at home, or whether he will rely on counter attacks. You may wonder why we'd get counters at home, but Cape Verde also needs to win so this could be an exciting game for the neutral.
YV: Bafana Bafana lacked a commander in Cape Verde, would you agree?
IM: Yes, you could say that. I think you need a commanding goalkeeper and we lost that in Itu Khune. You need another in defence and another in midfield. This is the core of the team. Experience counts the most in high level internationals. We are not experimenting for 2210 here. World Cup qualification is happening right now. You see top international teams field 30-year old’s in their line-up. You need this experience, otherwise when the chips are down, where's the mental strength going to rise from, to calm the team down? I feel that when we were a goal down, we resorted to desperate, route one football. All we needed was to have confidence in ourselves, to believe in our ability to score, play our normal game, rise above the opposition and the goal would've come. Instead we were forcing the play and the frustration even led to a red card for Eric Mathoho.
YV: Baxter’s boys struggled to deal with the physicality of the Cape Verdeans, do you think our game plan is effective against the Islanders?
IM: We've often heard about this in the past that we are afraid of the physicality of nations in the North of Africa. We need to always forget about that and trust in our own skills and ability to play our own game. We can learn from Brazil and Spain in this regard. I'm interested to watch the new SA identity Baxter is developing going forward.
YV: What is the difference between Baxter and his predecessor Mashaba?
IM: It's still early days for Baxter so I'm not making any conclusions. I can say that SO FAR I feel we played better football under Shakes Mashaba. Shakes also relied heavily on counter attacking and the problem is that he wasn't winning most of the easy games at home. However, he wasn't just playing on the counter, we had a better flow to our game, the football looked less scrappy and the arrogance of Mashaba effected the players positively on the field, in that they didn't fear anyone. Now, we can certainly say that Baxter needs time for the players to get into his rhythm of playing and that requires time to say for sure that we are better than Mashaba's team or not. So, why change coaches and take this risk of learning a whole new strategy in the middle of our World Cup qualifying campaign? I'm not saying Mashaba is or isn't better than Baxter. It's a typical planning problem in Africa. I won't be surprised that some qualifying African nations will change coach to bring someone famous in just before the World Cup. That's another story.
IM: We know that Safa and Shakes didn't get along, so ultimately if we fail to reach Russia then you can blame it on the failed relationship with management because we were in such a good position after beating Senegal.
YV: You speak of identity, but should we worry about developing attractive football when football is a result’s driven game and getting to the World Cup is our immediate objective?
IM: Absolutely, if Bafana wins games then nobody will worry about flying to the World Cup the ugly way. On the other hand, if you don't get the right result while playing football that's sore on the eye then the public is going to be less forgiving when the ball doesn't bounce for your luck.
YV: Let's switch focus back to tonight's game, where do you think the decisive areas on the field will be?
IM: We don't have world class players for Bafana Bafana, so we have to advance with a higher team ethic. I think we can achieve this with the sum of our parts. However, in football you can't win anything if you have a defence that is making costly mistakes. That's what happened in Cape Verde, and that's what we need to stop - the mistakes at the back. When you don't have the best midfield and attack in Africa, you have to make sure you don't gift the opposition goals, then you got less goals to score to win the game. Under Mashaba we'd also score good goals against top African nations but also concede on the other end. There's a question mark on our backline.
YV: Do you think there is anyone who could possibly be a game changer?
IM: I would like to see (Percy) Tau start. At the end of the last game, he got into the right positions and we looked more likely to score, even though he didn't head the ball into the net. That was more encouraging than the rest of the game when we struggled to create.
YV: Lastly, while I know what your heart wants from the game, what is your mind telling you in terms of a prediction?
IM: I wish I was in the changeroom to see how the boys are feeling. If there's no tension in there, we should win. I'd normally say the first goal would settle us into the game and we could then destroy them with our speed on the counter but it didn't work like that in the first game. Nevertheless, you have to expect a South Africa win tonight. Anything else would be depressing. That's pressure. Can we live with this pressure? I don't think so. The team has a big chance to prove their doubters wrong and make amends tonight. If Senegal and Burkina Faso draw again, then a victory would give us one point extra over the two games and we'd be back in the driving seat. That must be our goal.