Why Bafana coach Stuart Baxter is happy to play Libya in Sfax
Bafana coach says venue in Tunisia is about the best the team could have got for the final Africa Cup of Nations qualifier
Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter says Sfax in Tunisia is “about the best” venue the national team could have got for their huge final Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Libya in March.
The Confederation of African Football (Caf) finally on Wednesday gave the SA Football Association (Safa) a venue for the big match in which Bafana need a draw and Libya a win to reach Egypt 2019.
SA’s last Group E qualifier will be played on the grass surface of the 25‚000-seater Stade Taieb Mhiri in Tunisia’s coastal city of Sfax. Caf also provided a final date and time — Sunday‚ March 24 at 6pm Tunisia time (5pm in SA).
Libya have had to play in neighbouring countries due to a Fifa ban on matches in their country‚ a result of the volatile security situation there.
Baxter said that with Safa having tentatively planned for Tunisia as a venue‚ that made life a margin easier for Bafana‚ even though they had held off on sending team manager Barney Kujane on a scouting mission before a confirmation.
“We’ve had to back off on the scouting in general because there were rumours that it would be in Egypt‚” the coach said.
“We thought Sfax sounded like the logical one — 60km from Libya’s border and they can maybe get their supporters in‚ and they’d played there before. I’m pleased that the date is going to be the 24th [Sunday] and not the 22nd [Friday]‚ so that gives us two more days [to prepare].
“But in terms of going and doing a recce‚ we held Barney back. We’ve been doing very big‚ broad strokes [in research]. I’ve got people I know in Tunisia and I’ve asked them their opinions‚ and about the different stadiums and accessibility.
“Barney’s done a broad-stroke check on hotels. So we’ve got the big brushstrokes. Now that we’ve got the confirmation of the venue today we can narrow down on the details.”
Baxter said he had watched the video of the one Afcon qualifier Tunisia have played at Stade Taieb Mhiri‚ a 3-2 defeat against Nigeria.
“I think the venue is as good as we can get. I mean you can suspect that there’s going to be‚ let’s say in inverted commas‚ surprises‚ no matter where we’re going to go‚” he said.
“Is the grass cut short‚ is it left long‚ is it watered‚ is it not? The dressing room accessibility. Suddenly the toilets don’t work. And I think we’ve got to make sure that plays absolutely no role in our mindset. I don’t think it [adaptation] is one of the things we [SA] are well known for. But wherever we go‚ whoever we play‚ we’ve got to pitch up‚ have a steady mindset and put on a performance.”
Libya played their other 2019 Afcon home game in Cairo‚ beating Seychelles 5-1.
Nigeria have qualified from Group E with 10 points. SA have nine and Libya seven.
Bafana drew 0-0 with Libya in Durban in September.