Newly appointed Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter faces a tough baptism when he officially steps into the boiling cauldron that is Nigeria on Saturday.
Baxter was appointed in May and the tricky 2019 Africa Cup of Nations showdown against the Nigerians will be the British mentor’s first match in the Bafana dugout.
He could not have asked for a more challenging first assignment as Bafana have never beaten Nigeria in an official match after years of trying.
Besides that hurdle, Baxter is also facing an injury headache that could force him to alter his plans before Bafana’s departure for Nigeria on Wednesday.
Team doctor Thulani Ngwenya said on Monday that seven players arrived in camp on Sunday carrying an assortment of injuries.
Ngwenya confirmed that Lebogang Manyama (right knee), Andile Jali (right groin), Tokelo Rantie (right toe bone contusion and right knee), Tiyani Mabunda (ankle), Aubrey Ngoma (groin), Rivaldo Coetzee (hamstring) and Eric Mathoho (concussion) were all injured.
‘‘In terms of who is likely or not likely to play, it would not be fair for me to say right now," Ngwenya said.
‘‘We will do our level best in terms of treating all of them and we will make the final call after the scans.
‘‘The two players that need to go for scans are Rivaldo and Rantie," he said.
Baxter admitted it would be disastrous if some of the players ended up going to hospital.
‘‘We are obviously hoping they are all fit because they have just arrived in camp. It would be a minor disaster if people come to camp and then go straight to hospital. I don’t think that is the idea of a call-up."
Nigeria have been in camp since May and Baxter is well aware that Bafana have got out of the starting blocks a lot later than their rivals.
‘‘We have got very little time [to prepare] in comparison to Nigeria’s three weeks in France in training camps.
‘‘The reports I got from Nigeria is that offensively, they are very strong, defensively they all work very hard. ‘They are on a good run of results, they look very confident.
‘‘The way we are going to play is very, very much to try and be the biggest problem we can be, to be the nightmare that they do not want.
‘‘Sometimes it is about maybe not playing your best move, but playing the move that your opponent doesn’t want.
‘‘We are not fazed and we respect the Nigerians because they have quality in their team and they are on a long run of unbeaten games," Baxter said.
‘‘But the meeting we had [on Sunday with the players] showed that we do not feel that we are just going there to make up the numbers. Far from it.
‘‘What we have is not 100% perfect and I hope going forward we will hit the spot better.
‘‘None of that is meant as an excuse. That is just information we have got for you guys and we will do absolutely whatever we can every minute we have got," Baxter promised.
The Bafana coach announced that BidVest Wits defender Thulani Hlatshwayo would captain the side.
Baxter will be assisted by SA under-20 coach Thabo Senong, SA under-17 mentor Molefi Ntseki and goalkeeper coach Alex Heredia.