Head Coach Stuart Baxter during the South African national mens soccer team training session at Moses Mabhida Stadium on September 07, 2018 in Durban, South Africa.
Image: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images

Marc Strydom‚ in Durban - Stuart Baxter has defended his central midfielder Dean Furman after a man-of-the-match performance by the player for Bafana Bafana in their 0-0 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying stalemate against Libya on Saturday.

Bafana found an excellently-organised Libya difficult to break down at Moses Mabhida Stadium.

The South Africans could not be faulted for effort and had to work themselves ragged for the few scoring opportunities they were able to manufacture.

Two players who came in for special praise for their effort on a frustrating afternoon on a pitch soaked from a heavy morning downpour were winger Keagan Dolly and SuperSport United defensive midfielder Furman‚ whose selection for Bafana can often be criticised.

"I thought Dean was outstanding today. I thought Keagan Dolly was as well‚" Baxter said after the game.

"And I know that when we select teams there's always someone who pops his hand up and says‚ 'What about Dean Furman‚ why is he playing? And what about Keagan Dolly‚ why is he playing? And what about Fred and Tom and Harry?'

"So when you make that kind of comment you must feel pretty silly when the player puts in a performance like Dean did this afternoon.

"Dean's an asset to South Africa and I think anybody who doesn't see that doesn't know football.

"And that's not criticising any individual who's sitting in here [in the stadium press conference room]. That's just ... you know‚ we all need to take responsibility for the development of this game.

"And constant negativity towards certain players‚ or the whole of South African football‚ doesn't encourage anybody.

"So as Dean says‚ we know what's gone down tonight. We know that we should have won.

"We are disappointed we didn't win and we'll analyse it and try to come back stronger.

"But I have to say that‚ players like Dean - a player who puts his heart and soul into every game - I think we all need to ask ourselves a question. Are we fair with that criticism‚ or not?"

Baxter's defence of his midfielder backfired to some extent when the coach then drew a reaction from one journalist for having used the term: "anybody who doesn't see that doesn't know football".

In a testy exchange it was pointed out to the coach that he had used the same term earlier in the week defending the call-up of son Lee Baxter as goalkeeper-coach.

Furman is far from the most gifted of South African central midfielders. He makes up for it with huge heart and work-rate.

Baxter's defence might not have drawn the reaction the coach was hoping for‚ but the coach was correct that Furman was outstanding against Libya.