Mark Fish, left, and Stuart Baxter during the South African national men's soccer team training session at Steyn City School on June 05, 2019 in Johannesburg. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/LEFTY SHIVAMBU
Mark Fish, left, and Stuart Baxter during the South African national men's soccer team training session at Steyn City School on June 05, 2019 in Johannesburg. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/LEFTY SHIVAMBU

Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter has defended his selections at the back and in the goalkeeping department in his final 23-man squad for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).

Baxter’s frontline defence — should he go with four at the back — of Thamsanqa Mkhize‚ captain Thulani Hlatshwayo‚ Buhle Mkhwanazi and leftback Sifiso Hlanti looks solid and should not be questioned.

However‚ it is among the backup defenders that doubts have been raised‚ especially rightback Ramahlwe Mphahlele and centreback Daniel Cardoso‚ whose club Kaizer Chiefs‚ finished a miserable ninth in the 2018-19 Premiership.

At goalkeeper‚ Darren Keet made the position his own with a stunning display in the 2-1 qualifying win against Libya that saw Bafana through to Egypt 2019‚ and SuperSport United’s Ronwen Williams has been in form.

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The selection of Chiefs’ Bruce Bvuma, who has precious little international experience and is finding his feet at PSL level, as a third-choice would threaten to leave the squad thin at keeper should Keet become injured.

While Baxter has appeared to get the balance right in his attack and midfield‚ these backup issues in defence have raised concerns.

“For me we’ve got the three best goalkeepers in the country‚” Baxter responded. “Ronwen Williams has got goalkeeper of the year [at the 2018-19 PSL awards]. Darren Keet played the last couple of games‚ actually [for Wits‚ despite contractual issues]. He missed about five or six‚ but he played the last couple. So I’m not worried in the slightest about the goalkeepers.

“In terms of the defenders, if you can find better defenders than the ones we have got‚ then give me a shout. I think we’ve got the best defenders who are available. We can’t take another five or six defenders just on the off-chance that one has a bad day.

"Tyson [Thulani Hlatshwayo] is a captain‚ he’s the leader‚ and I think he’s the best individual leader in the country.”

Baxter did admit that Mphahlele has not had a convincing season.

“Rama has not been Rama‚ for a while‚” the coach said. “But he has potentially more experience and he has potentially a bigger game in him than‚ let’s say‚ a less experienced fullback‚ a less  educated fullback who has played every game for his club. So I’m hoping that Rama‚ and he’s been showing signs of it‚ will come to life with the national team.

“I think the two leftbacks have been very good. Innocent [Maela] has been very good at Pirates and Sifiso [Hlanti] gives me a leftback and a centreback. Thami [Thamsanqa Mkhize] is the best rightback in the country.

“So‚ would we have liked to have a few Argentinean defenders who have played 150 games for their country suddenly get SA  passports? That would have been nice.”

However, it is a mystery why Mamelodi Sundowns’ Wayne Arendse — a 2016 Caf Champions League winner‚ hugely experienced continental club campaigner and someone who could be a super-solid back-up — does not get a look in with the national team. Downs teammate Thapelo Morena is the best attacking fullback in the PSL‚ and has the pace to shepherd wingers in defence. And Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy complained that centreback Taariq Fielies should not have been overlooked.

Baxter has gone with the tried and tested who have been around his Bafana squad as his defensive backups. He will need them to step up to the plate.