Stuart Baxter pinpoints Ivory Coast as a vital Afcon clash
Victory in opener may well be enough to take SA to the last 16
Stuart Baxter is eyeing Bafana Bafana’s showdown against Ivory Coast in the opening match of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Egypt in June as an opportunity to lay down a marker for the tournament as a whole.
Baxter has steadfastly refused to set targets at the continental showpiece but revealed that the potentially explosive clash against Ivory Coast on June 24 would be crucial for his charges if they are to make an early statement in the event.
“The first one will be important‚” he said of the game, which will be followed by Namibia on June 28 and Morocco on July 1.
Bafana will play all their Group D matches at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo and will move to another venue only if they fail to finish on top of their group.
Three points may well be enough to take Bafana to the last 16 as four best third-placed finishers will join the 12 teams that will finish first and second in the six groups in the 24-team tournament.
Baxter said if his charges are able to replicate the polished displays they delivered in the two qualifying matches against Nigeria (they beat the Super Eagles 2-0 in Uyo in June 2017 and drew 1-1 in Johannesburg in the return fixture last November)‚ then they stand a great chance of upsetting a lot of teams in Egypt.
“We can add the character we showed against Paraguay [in the Nelson Mandela Challenge at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban last November] when we scored [through Percy Tau] in the final seconds.
‘‘I said to the players after that game: ‘The attitude that you have shown is that Bafana don’t want to lose’.
“We are difficult to beat now and I told them we need that going to Libya. And they replicated that [in Tunisia] against Libya.
“I thought we also played good football in our 6-0 win against Seychelles.
‘‘The one in Seychelles is a bad game for us because it reveals again those mental frailties in that we had 14 corners and only delivered four into the dangerous area. It’s not good enough.
“But I also saw through the campaign that we are addressing it. If we go there [to Egypt] and don’t show those frailties‚ then I think we can be a dangerous opponent.”
Bafana have met Morocco four times in Afcon tournaments‚ beating them twice. They drew the other two matches in the 2004 and 2013 tournaments. In 1998 Bafana defeated Morocco 2-1 in the quarterfinals and did the same in a Group B tie in 2002 when they won 3-1.
A Benni McCarthy-inspired Bafana walloped Namibia 4-0 in 1998 in Burkina Faso‚ with the Cape Town City coach announcing himself on the international arena with four goals in a team coached by Jomo Sono.
Bafana drew 1-1 in a Group C match against Ivory Coast in 1998 but went on to lose in the final against Egypt in a tournament in which they were defending champions after winning as hosts in 1996.