• Baxter won’t change Bafana’s approach for Egypt clash

    Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter

    Bafana Bafana will take on Egypt in the last 16 at the Africa Cup of Nations but for any South African fans hoping for a different approach, strap in because Stuart Baxter will not change his tactics for the clash against the hosts, as DEAN WORKMAN explores.

    According to football analytics company OptaJoe, Bafana are the only side to fail to hit the target in two of their three games played at Afcon 2019. That was in the matchups with Ivory Coast and Morocco where Bafana were slammed by supporters for their inability to create chances in the final third.

    Bafana managed to scrape past Namibia with a 1-0 win, which was ultimately enough to see them progress as the fourth-best third-placed team, but the only goal in the game came from a set play as Baxter’s charges again struggled to pose a threat from open play.

    While Baxter has made the South African national team hard to beat by building a team and system which rely on remaining compact off the ball and not allowing their opposition space and time to penetrate, it starves Bafana’s forward-thinking players of possession in the final third.

    No team at Afcon has spent more time in the middle third than Bafana with 43% of their possession stuck there and only Tunisia have made less crosses per game, with Bafana averaging zero completed through ball per game. Pretty damning stats for the side who have been under mass scrutiny back home for their lack of ambition going forward.

    You cannot score goals if you are not entering, or at least trying to enter, the opposition final third. Baxter’s team have been restricted to looking to feed off set plays.

    For those expecting a different approach against the Pharos, don’t hold your breath as we are likely to see a similar approach as Bafana will attempt to stop the threat of Mohamed Salah, Trezeguet and other Egyptian stars.

    This is not to say that this tactic can’t work especially in a tournament format, as we only have to look back at Portugal’s Euro 2016 victory where they similarly progressed out their group with three draws.

    They then needed an extra-time goal against Croatia in the last 16, before a penalty shootout win over Poland in the quarter-finals sent them through to the semi-finals without having won a game in 90 minutes.

    Portugal went on to beat Wales in the semi-finals before again needing extra time to beat France 1-0 in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo’s team were European champions, and no one was complaining about the way in which they achieved it.

    Similarly Bafana could follow the same sort of path as the European champions. This, however, also requires a certain level of luck and for Bafana’s forward players to step up and be clinical when chances do appear.

    As Baxter said after the loss to Morocco, there are many ways to win a football match. So, for all Bafana Bafana fans who are expecting a shift in mindset from Baxter’s charges: don’t hold your breath as we will likely see more of the same against Egypt on Saturday.

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