Bafana coach Baxter under pressure to make changes for Burkina Faso
Stuart Baxter will on Wednesday name the Bafana Bafana squad to face Burkina Faso in a 2018 World Cup qualifier and will be under pressure to make changes after his misfiring side saw their Russian dreams going up in smoke with back-to-back losses to Cape Verde.
Their cause has further not been helped by FIFA’s correct decision to have them replay their controversial qualifier against Senegal from November last year that was won by Bafana Bafana 2-1‚ aided by cheating Ghana referee Joseph Lamptey.
They now need to win all three of their remaining qualifiers – home to the Burkinabe on October 7‚ and home and away to Senegal in November - to have any hope of making the global showpiece competition.
One certainty is that Baxter will recall Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune to the squad after the experienced gloveman missed the Cape Verde disaster through injury.
His replacements‚ Ronwen Williams and Wayne Sandilands‚ both failed to impress and have nowhere near the pedigree of Bafana’s undisputed number one.
The return to fitness of Khune is a massive boost to the side‚ both in terms of his quality and leadership. He has also looked in good form for Chiefs over the last few matches.
That was‚ perhaps‚ Baxter’s biggest mistake in the matches against Cape Verde‚ it appeared he selected on reputation and players he knew well from club football‚ rather than players in form in the opening weeks of the campaign.
When South Africa put in a sterling performance against Nigeria in June to win 2-0 in Uyo‚ players were coming off what was a long season‚ but had form and game-time under their belt. Against Cape Verde they had little of either.
Chiefs defender Erick Mathoho had an erratic start to the new Premier Soccer League season but was drafted straight into the side.
That ended in disaster with a red card in Praia in an error-strewn performance.
Lebogang Manyama had yet to hit his stride for Cape Town City‚ while Bongani Zungu had been dropped at Vitoria Guimaraes after an iffy start to the new campaign.
He also selected for his squad Kermit Erasmus (though he did not play)‚ who had not kicked a ball in competitive football since May.
Baxter then left out Andile Jali and Kamohelo Mokotjo‚ who had started the season well with their respective teams in Europe‚ while giving Percy Tau two cameo appearances off the bench.
All three have been in fine form this season‚ even if the former duo's teams have been struggling.
Baxter is a master planner and has very strong ideas about how his teams should play‚ but is he flexible enough to adjust that to accommodate players who have shown form‚ rather than forcing roles on those who have not?
That is the big question going forward.
He will have to make a change at right-back at least‚ with Chiefs’ Ramahlwe Mphahlele injured for the next few months.
Pirates’ Abbubaker Mobara deserves to be given a chance in the role having been back-up against Cape Verde.
Morgan Gould is likely to retain his place at centre-back alongside Thulani Hlatshwayo‚ while Tebogo Langerman should stay at left-back.
Will Baxter be tempted to select in-form Thabo Matlaba for that position though‚ even if he has been playing in midfield for Orlando Pirates this season?
The combination in the centre of midfield will be interesting‚ with all of Jali‚ Mokotjo‚ Zungu‚ Dean Furman and Hlompho Kekana likely to retain their positions in the squad.
Dolly and Themba Zwane should keep their places in the squad‚ but striker remains a critical issue for the side.
Tokelo Rantie has to be there for his ability to get behind opposing defenders‚ but Bradley Grobler did not do enough against the Cape Verdeans.
He remains among the best finishers in the Premier Soccer League‚ but does not necessarily provide the ‘targetman’ that Rantie needs to play off.
There are a dearth of those in South African football with Thamsanqa Gabuza having been discarded and Dutch-born Lars Veldwijk seemingly out of the mix.
The form South African striker at the moment is Dino Ndlovu‚ who impressed for Qarabag in their mauling by Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League last week‚ but has been given scant chances in international football to date.
Baxter is unlikely to make wholesale changes for a number of reasons‚ mostly because he believes in continuity and has been working with this group of players since he took over the side in June.
He will also not want to be seen to be panicking‚ nor are there a plethora of other options out there to improve his squad.
He is more likely to tinker with what he has got to find the right formula for success.