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Africa Cup of Nations

Baxter must be brave if Bafana are to reach Afcon 2019 knockouts

1:22 AM WAT 27/06/2019
South Africa coach Stuart Baxter and Mark Fish June 18
Sitting back is not an option for South Africa if they are to qualify for the next round following their opening defeat by the Ivory Coast

It’s not how you start, but rather how you finish – it's a phrase that might give some solace to South Africa head coach Stuart Baxter after his team were defeated in their opener.

Bafana Bafana began their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a whimper rather than a mighty roar as they were beaten by Ivory Coast on Monday.

The 1-0 scoreline flattered Bafana considerably as they failed to record a single shot on target over the course of 90 minutes.

Generally, it the first game which sets the tone for what can be expected from a team going forward, but in the case of Bafana, it is perhaps best to head back to the drawing board.

The team looked tame and unimaginative despite having more touches on the ball, and this is something that Baxter will need to change ahead of games against Namibia and Morocco.

The southern Africans are now clearly under pressure moving forward, but it’s by no means all doom and gloom. Just as Baxter alluded to after the game, there were some positives that could be taken from the clash...

Defensively, aside from just the one mistake which led to the goal, Bafana were solid, although Ronwen Williams did come to the rescue on two separate occasions.

However, just being defensively sound is not good enough and this is where Baxter needs to be bolder.

In his team selection, the 65-year-old has an abundance of attacking options but still preferred Kamohelo Mokotjo alongside Dean Furman in the middle of the park.

While the pair brought great stability, it came at a price in terms of creativity.

The pair have very similar attributes, and this is where Baxter needs to be brave and bring players such as Hlompho Kekana or Bongani Zungu into the mix.

This will also help to narrow the gap between the midfielders and attackers, a feature that was apparent against Ivory Coast as Percy Tau and Lebo Mothiba were often isolated upfront.

This tactic was clearly not working for Bafana, and Baxter needs to rethink his approach, especially against Namibia.

Against Bafana’s southern African neighbours, Baxter has the opportunity to express himself as not only are they favourites on paper, but failure to win could potentially see the end of Bafana’s Afcon adventure.  

Meanwhile, in addition to the changes in personnel, Baxter’s pragmatic approach has also been questionable.

Sitting back and playing on the counter was perhaps the wrong approach against the Elephants.

Bafana have players with superb ball-playing ability, and it is disappointing that the players have not been allowed to play with a lot more freedom.

You cannot sit back, especially against a side who have some of the best players on the continent at their disposal, and it was perhaps a lack of foresight by Baxter to not change things around as the Elephants eventually pounced during the match.  

Nonetheless, Baxter has the opportunity to turn things around, but only if opts to make the right changes and encourages his side to take the fight to the opposition.

With the tournament now in full swing, there isn't much room for error, and improvement is undoubtedly needed.