A good Bafana squad but what next?

Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter Stuart Baxter has ticked the boxes

National team coach Stuart Baxter has picked his first Bafana Bafana squad and it appears to tick all the right boxes, writes WADE PRETORIUS.

The 25-man Bafana Bafana squad to face Nigeria in a crucial Afcon 2019 qualifier has just been named and guess what? There’s no public outcry. No panic. Hardly any significant pushback even. I can’t really fully comprehend what that means either, it’s been so long since a coach won the approval from the public and the press.

So what has Baxter done? He’s gone for the familiar faces – not the faces familiar to him as soon-to-be ex-SuperSport United coach – but rather those that have been working in the system for some time already.

The bulk of this squad did duty for Owen Da Gama against Guinea-Bissau and Angola earlier in the year and the squad seems really balanced. The goalkeepers have pretty much selected themselves and he’s gotten things right with his defensive choices – it will be harder to pick the four to keep out Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho and Co.

The midfield has the usual suspects plus one – Cape Town City’s Aubrey Ngoma – he deserves it. He’s been in form the whole season and should’ve been picked sooner, in my view. Now that he gets his chance, the little interaction I’ve had with him (he was a cover star for TFG SoccerClub magazine in September 2016) suggests that he won’t be taking this opportunity for granted.

Bongani Zungu and Kermit Erasmus have been included and will be hoping to hit the ground running after a year in Europe. Only Tiyani Mabunda’s exclusion can be considered a shock, but if that’s the only talking point then Baxter has done well.

It is interesting to note that only Thamsanqa Gabuza represents the two Soweto giants, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, past the defensive options. That is telling in that Baxter has seen enough of Chiefs and Pirates this year and has still given only one player the chance to join the national team.

It’s a clear sign of how far the two giants of local football have fallen. And conversely, how Cape Town City have continued their meteoric rise up the ladder of the PSL.

Nigeria in Nigeria is one of the hardest tests in the game. Baxter remains the only coach to have tasted victory over the Super Eagles, but in his second time in charge he must do what many of those who have coached South Africa have failed to do – play to a game plan. A plan that is evident in team selection, formation and tactics.

Baxter doesn’t have players in this squad of the quality that scored for him when SA beat Nigeria (Shaun Bartlett and Benedict Vilakazi scored on that day), which means he will have to ‘box smart’, but this coach is a lot more experienced than the one who took charge of the national team in 2004.

Baxter has ticked the boxes so far. Can he tick one more on 10 June?