Stuart Baxter just got too many things wrong at Africa Cup of Nations
Cairo — Stuart Baxter was not incorrect in his assessment that “there are many ways to win a game” and Bafana Bafana could easily have squeezed a result — a draw or even at some stretch a win — in their Africa Cup of Nations Group D game against Morocco.
A draw at Al Salam Stadium in Cairo would have guaranteed SA’s progression without having to get out their calculators to meet either Egypt at Cairo International Stadium on Saturday or Madagascar, shock victors of Group B and 2-0 winners over Nigeria, on Sunday in Alexandria in the last 16.
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Bafana were headed for a toughed-out stalemate before a free kick was not cleared and fell to midfielder Mbark Boussoufa to smash in a 90th-minute winner for Hervé Renard’s imposing Morocco.
South Africans have howled at Baxter’s conservative football in a 1-0 defeat in searing heat against Ivory Coast and a scrappy 1-0 win against Namibia, and now the defeat to Morocco.
Some perspective is perhaps needed. Before the Morocco game a result for Bafana was written off as a no hope. But SA take the Atlas Lions to the 90th minute before conceding, and anger is vented that they should have done better.
What is justified, though, is to say that Baxter’s tactic of inviting trouble in the second half by sitting deep — after a first 45 minutes that was SA’s most polished of the tournament and when Bafana rattled Morocco enough to have Renard screaming on the touchline — is inexcusable.
It allowed Morocco, wanting to conserve some energy in the relative heat of this match as they will need to play seven games overall to achieve a target of winning the competition, to camp in SA’s half without much effort. In any sport, never do exactly what the opposition wants you to.
Then the goal inevitably came. Baxter expressed, as he has done grumpily and indignantly throughout the tournament, a contrary view of it.
“I think that if we attacked Morocco and played high with our backline, then Morocco would have enjoyed the game a lot more,” the coach said.
“I think the players played well in terms of their pressing and defending crosses.
“And, if we could have played better in the last third and concentrated, we had situations. There are many ways to win a game of football.
“But losing in the last 30 seconds from a set play that was cheaply conceded, then it’s not a time for me to start questioning the players. It’s the time to accept a result you didn’t want.
“When we’ve calmed down and we can be realistic, we can evaluate: could we have gone forward more, could we have defended better? That’s what I said to the players. I didn’t want to say anything that I would regret in my disappointment.”
The assessment will be carried out in the coming days. But in a nutshell — too conservative against Ivory Coast, although the heat played a role; disjointed against Namibia; and counter-productive tactics in the second half against Morocco — it is a lot, too much, for a coach to get wrong.