Baxter in selection plight for Paraguay
Bafana coach considers picking the strongest line-up or fringe players for Mandela Challenge
Fresh from their fortuitous draw with Nigeria at the weekend in a game that sent the Super Eagles on their way to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals and Bafana Bafana into a state of anxiety, SA face Paraguay in the Nelson Mandela Challenge match on Tuesday.
Last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Nigeria has put Bafana coach Stuart Baxter in something of a dilemma. He needs a positive result to lift the team, not to mention his standing with the fans and his bosses at the SA Football Association.
Does Baxter go with his strongest available line-up against the South Americans at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium, or will he give some fringe players a game?
In the big picture not beating Paraguay is unimportant, getting a result in Bafana’s final Afcon qualifier against Libya away in March is non-negotiable.
But before Baxter and his team contemplate the Libya showdown, there is Paraguay to face in the 24th edition of the Challenge. It will be the first time Bafana play Paraguay in the annual tournament, but not the first time SA take on South American opposition.
In the second challenge in 1995, Bafana drew 1-1 with Argentina. Doctor Khumalo had put Bafana one up with a superb strike from outside the box, but Argentina equalised with a soft penalty.
In between that match and the next Mandela Challenge, Bafana were crowned African champions in early 1996 after beating Tunisia in the final in Johannesburg.
A few months later at the same venue, Bafana faced the mighty Brazil, who were reigning world champions. It is probably one of the most memorable Mandela Challenges in the event’s 24-year history.
Billed as the Africa champs against the world champs, that game had very few fans giving Bafana much hope of avoiding a slaughter.
Coach Mario Zagallo’s Brazil included World Cup winners such as Rivaldo (74 caps), Bebeto (75 caps), Aldair (81 caps) and goalkeeper Dida (91 caps).
It was a quality side Bafana captain Neil Tovey and his team faced.
The South Africans were finding their feet on the international stage with the likes of Lucas Radebe, Khumalo and Phil Masinga still to blossom into top-flight footballers.
In the build-up to the match Bafana coach Clive Barker said the game was “for President Mandela, and what a night it will be if we beat Brazil”.
Bafana did not win, but what a stunning match the Ellis Park crowd and millions at home watching on television were treated to.
At half-time Bafana were 2-0 up thanks to goals from Masinga and Khumalo. The Brazilians were stunned, the crowd delirious.
However Brazil hit back to level at 2-2 with goals from Flavio and Rivaldo.
And with four minutes left Bebeto grabbed the winner to shatter an SA fantasy.
Over the years Bafana have hosted many nations with a positive record. Of the 23 games, they have won 12, drawn three and lost eight. And their goal count is 27 for with 23 against.
All the matches have been played in SA bar one, which was a 1-0 defeat to Egypt in London in 2006.
Tuesday’s match against Paraguay will give the class of 2018 a chance to stamp their mark on this celebrated game.
Top of the class is undoubtedly Percy Tau and teammate Lebo Mothiba. The pair combined beautifully on Saturday against Nigeria for Mothiba to score for SA.
Tau, who is making his way in Europe, was man-of-the-match while Mothiba’s goal was his fourth in five outings for Bafana. The 22-year-old has also been in fine form for his French club Strasbourg, scoring seven goals so far this season.
Tau, 24, even earned praise from Nigeria’s coach Gernot Rohr. “I give my congratulations to this wonderful player Percy Tau and I hope to see him again in a big team in Europe‚” said Rohr.
“He’s got all the qualities to play in England or anywhere else,” he said.
However, in the meanwhile, Baxter needs Tau and Mothiba to focus on Paraguay on Tuesday, but more importantly on Libya in March.
Tuesday’s game kicks off at 7pm.