Stuart Baxter at a training session in Johannesburg. Picture: LEFTY SHIVAMBU/GALLO IMAGES
Stuart Baxter at a training session in Johannesburg. Picture: LEFTY SHIVAMBU/GALLO IMAGES

Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter is pleased his squad members are showing a togetherness and passion for representing the nation‚ which he says can be a strength for SA at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Egypt.

Baxter on Sunday cut three players — Kermit Erasmus‚ Ben Motshwari and Fortune Makaringe — from a 26-man preliminary squad in announcing his final 23 who will fly out of Johannesburg on Monday for the second leg of their preparation camp in Dubai.

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The coach said complications such as the withdrawal through injury of Montpellier winger Keagan Dolly and Mamelodi Sundowns centreback Rivaldo Coetzee‚ due to his mother being critically ill‚ had made the selection process more difficult.

“This has not been an easy process. It’s certainly not made easier when we’ve had issues within the camp‚” Baxter said. Over the last few days we’ve had one player — we won’t mention a name — who’s been under enormous pressure from his family to attend a ceremony‚ which he has finally decided he won’t attend. With no disrespect to his family‚ but out of passion for the national team, we’re very pleased with that.”

Baxter said such passion displayed by the unnamed player‚ and a spirit of togetherness that has begun to be bonded on the team’s first leg of their pre-Afcon preparations in camp training at Steyn City School in Midrand this past week‚ can be a strength for SA.

“We’ve tried to put together a balanced squad that gives us options tactically. I think the strength of the squad is its togetherness” Baxter said. “’It’s been very difficult to achieve that balance.

“We lost a centreback‚ and we’ve only in the last few days realised we were not going to get him into the squad. And then you have the question‚ do you replace a centreback‚ or do you keep a centreback from within the squad?

“We have Sifiso Hlanti who can play centreback‚ we have ‘Rama’ [Ramahlwe Mphahlele] who can play centreback, both of whom had small injuries [on Saturday]. Now most of the centrebacks [outside the Bafana squad] have not been doing anything for the last few weeks. So do you now take one from the Cosafa Cup? We decided that we would solve this in-house.

“I think the strength of the squad is going to be the harmony of the squad. It’s going to be the ‘we’ feeling. And it’s going to be the feeling that the players are going to be very goal orientated.”

Against group D heavyweights such as Ivory Coast‚ who SA kick their tournament off against in Cairo on June 24‚ and Morocco‚ both of whom have players at big-name European clubs, such togetherness can be crucial.