Baxter laments poor transition in opening Africa Cup of Nations game
Cairo — Bafana Bafana were poor in parts when they were beaten by Ivory Coast in their Africa Cup of Nations opener on Monday, admitted coach Stuart Baxter.
He said SA should have been slicker when moving the ball from defence to attack.
But there was a lot that Baxter took encouragement from as the South Africans displayed excellent structure in the heat of the Group D fixture at Al Salam Stadium — a game that kicked off in 37°C heat.
If Baxter can successfully tweak an attack that failed — the heat perhaps most affected SA, who could only play their favourite quick-passing game in patches — they have a good chance of beating Namibia on Friday (kickoff 10pm), and even giving Morocco a run for their money on Monday (6pm).
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"I thought in the first 15 minutes we were quite slow in our decision-making, and in a way we allowed Ivory Coast to get into a better rhythm," the coach said.
"We were quite poor to transmit the ball from the back to the front.
"We settled down and started moving the ball more quickly, and we got in between the lines, and the rest of the half we looked promising.
"The second half the same. I think the heat affected both teams, and the tempo dropped. But I thought we were comfortable in the game.
"The goal came when we had a corner. And on a transition from our corner we didn’t defend as well as we had done.
"After they scored we made a couple of changes and got better possession, but didn’t transfer that into strikes on goal."
One thing you have to give Baxter — is he is brave. He opted for Ronwen Williams in a horses for courses swap with Darren Keet in goal, in a move that would have seen him slammed at home had it backfired.
The SuperSport United keeper was outstanding.
"We picked Ronwen because, when we played against Libya in Tunisia [in Bafana’s clinching qualifier in March], we played with three centrebacks, and knew that flank-play would be their strength and there would be lots of crosses.
"But that wasn’t the strength of Ivory Coast. We knew their wide players drive inside and strike at goal, [they like] bashing through bodies.
"Darren was suited for Libya and has been a little more inactive [for Bidvest Wits], and Ronwen, we thought, was suited for this game with his shot-stopping and distribution."
The result was disappointing, but far from the disaster many appear to have labelled it on social media back home.
Ivory Coast are a lot stronger on paper. It is disappointing Bafana could not rattle them more. But it was always going to be a big ask.
Dean Furman and Kamohelo Mokotjo were excellent in central midfield. The back four were not nearly as caught for pace as one might have expected from Nicolas Pepe‚ goalscorer Jonathan Kodjia and co.
Bafana have an excellent defensive block of six and the structure is polished‚ which for any team entering a major tournament is the starting point.
Get the attack functioning and SA should get the win against Namibia.