Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter has explained his reasons for leaving out Orlando Pirates midfielder Xola Mlambo in his latest squad to face Seychelles in back-to-back African Cup of Nations qualifiers.
After announcing his squad on Monday, the English coach said Mlambo is close to getting a Bafana call-up because he's top quality, but said he's looking to keep his team balanced with the young and old.
“I’ve had meetings with the Pirates staff, and I’ve told them that he’s one that has caught my eye. I’m just looking at the balance of the squad, and I’m thinking, at this moment, against these opponents, is he the one? I was thinking about him more against Libya, I have to admit, because of his ability to play in tight spaces," Baxter told reporters.
Baxter will be without midfielder Bongani Zungu, who is ruled out due to injury, but the coach has called up Cape Town City's Thabo Nodada ahead of Mlambo.
Moreover, Mlambo has been one of Pirates' best players this season and he has consistently contributed to the team's success thus far.
“But on the other hand, we knew we were going to have to defend on transition against Libya, and at Pirates, he has a role where he’s a last-third or build-up player, with others track back quicker than he does," he added.
“I think he’s definitely improved, and when I maybe get a younger player that I think is around the same, well then it’s about taking the younger one. And that’s not saying he’s any worse, it’s just saying that for the future it is worth investing in international playing time," continued the coach.
In addition, the former SuperSport United boss concluded by saying that the former Chippa United midfielder has caught his eye and will soon be included the national team.
“But he’s certainly one that’s caught my eye, and you know you’ve got to pick a squad that wins. So, he’s close, but at the moment, I think the balance that we’ve got is okay,” he concluded.
The 1996 African champions are set to face the Islanders later this month in their quest to qualify for the continental tournament in Cameroon.
In their campaign so far, the South Africans have four points from a win over Nigeria and a draw against Libya at home last month.