Bafana Bafana returned home on Sunday with the noticeable swagger of champions after winning a tournament in Zambia that coach Stuart Baxter never wanted to participate in.
Baxter wanted Bafana to travel to the King’s Cup in Thailand where his charges would have met the hosts‚ Slovakia and UAE in this week’s Fifa international window.
His beleaguered South African Football Association (Safa) employers sent the team to Zambia instead and Baxter will be delighted that they forced his hand after his charges beat the hosts 2-0 to lift the Four Nations tournament trophy at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola on Saturday.
A Percy Tau goal in the 15th minute and a 90th-minute clincher from substitute Lebogang Mothiba gave the South Africans victory.
The Briton said he managed to make the most of his team’s participation in the tournament and achieved his primary objective of blooding youngsters into the Bafana camp as he begins the process of rebuilding the Bafana Bafana side.
"Our objective was to learn as much as we could about the players and this was a high-pressure game for them [the younger players]‚" Baxter said.
"So I think they dealt with it well. Going forward we have to try and get them more and more international experience."
The Bafana coach said the tournament gave him the opportunity to introduce the younger players without facing the pressure that accompanies the team when they are not winning matches.
He said he took a chance on several players and they rewarded him with exceptional performances‚ with the bonus of winning the tournament.
"So we tried to deepen the squad and widen the pool with the players that we want to work with‚" he said. "But you won’t do that unless you are prepared to take a chance on them. So I am delighted with their performance."
Meanwhile, Zambia coach Wedson Nyirenda said SA were "very clever" in the way they absorbed pressure and were dangerous on the counterattack.
Zambia enjoyed most of the possession and pressure on the South African goal over the 90 minutes at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium‚ with goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune keeping Bafana in the game a few times.
Nyirenda conceded that when his team lost the ball Bafana looked dangerous.
"We had control of the game in most parts of the 90 minutes. And I think SA were too clever in the way they were handling the pressure‚" former Kaizer Chiefs striker Nyirenda said.
"We pinned them and we put them under pressure‚ and then when they would come out they were looking so dangerous.
"And the way they were putting together their passes they would find themselves in a scoring position.
"But I think we have played a very good game."