Soccer

Here's how Bafana can beat Libya and book their ticket to Afcon

There's no room left for Stuart Baxter and his boys to blow it

24 March 2019 - 00:07 By MARC STRYDOM


Bafana Bafana will surely need to be aggressive and try to control tonight's must-draw 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Libya.
Part of that, coach Stuart Baxter says, will involve managing their emotions.
Both teams know what is needed of them in the final Group E qualifier at the 25,000-seater Stade Taïeb Mhiri in Sfax (kickoff 7pm SA-time), where war-torn Libya drew a decent crowd on neutral, neighbouring ground in a 4-0 defeat against Nigeria last year. Bafana, on nine points, need a draw; Libya, on seven, a win.
The questions raised over how SA even managed to get into a situation where they require a result away against Libya, having started with a 2-0 away win against Nigeria in Uyo in June 2017, should be put aside for now.
All that is important now is getting that result and reaching Egypt 2019. It is crucial for the development of a team that has some talent - Percy Tau, Lebogang Mothiba, Keagan Dolly (who pulled up injured this week), Bongani Zungu, Kamohelo Mokotjo - in it who desperately need to test themselves at a Nations Cup finals.
But how Bafana managed to place themselves in this predicament is important in that it points to what Baxter has called mental fragility, and others name a form of schizophrenia, that could see a team who managed to beat Nigeria somehow draw 0-0 in Seychelles just over a year later.
It is that fragility that has left Bafana supporters - punished by years of suffering because of the notorious level of underachievement reached by their national team - unwilling to raise their hopes by expecting things to go their team's way in Sfax.
Libya, after all, gave SA scares in a 0-0 draw in Durban last year. And Itumeleng Khune, who kept his team in that game, is injured, to be replaced by Darren Keet or Ronwen Williams - both good goalkeepers, and both who have produced hair-raising performances in the past in goal for SA.
So going to Sfax and setting themselves up defensively to try to ride out a storm and play for a draw against opponents who in Durban showed a commitment level not surprising from a team playing on behalf of a broken country in need of healing, seems an obvious way to lose.
Playing aggressively, and trying to control the 90 minutes far better than they managed at home against a side who possess a dangerous counterattack and solid defence, but who on pure skill coefficient are far below the South Africans, must be key.
Baxter, too, whose neck rests on the outcome of this game, pointed out the need to manage emotions better than Bafana have in recent years should things start badly, or even if they begin too well.
"I think the important part for us is to know that if Libya go a goal up in the first minute, what do we do? Or if we go down in the first minute, will it take us 30 minutes to recover?" the coach said.
"I think we need to have that security, where you know that it takes us one second to score a goal, so if Libya go a goal up don't panic. Or that it takes Libya one second to score a goal, so if we go a goal up don't lose our focus.
"I think if we can look at it in that way, and don't get on that big dipper, we'll be OK.
"That's not easy. But they're international players, so that's what we ask of them."
Baxter can speak beautifully about football. His predecessor, Ephraim "Shakes" Mashaba, sometimes struggled to express himself anywhere near as clearly. Mashaba, though, reached an Afcon, in 2015, so he did his talking with his results.
All these words matter not at all. This is a movie we have seen before.
If Libya score an early goal through a defensive lapse or a goalkeeping error, surely it will be all over for this conundrum called Bafana? That's what most people think, if you're a reader of opinions on social media, or listener to football radio chat shows.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps Bafana have finally grown a pair. Mamelodi Sundowns became African club champions in 2016 based on grit as much as class.

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