Baxter refuses to play Rohr’s mind games at Nations Cup
Even though Bafana have had it better over Nigeria in the past few years, the coach is happy with underdog tag
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has started the mind games, calling Bafana Bafana the new Africa Cup of Nations favourites because they knocked out Egypt.
Mind games aside, though, Nigeria will be treating Wednesday’s quarterfinal against SA with a big dollop of caution after that shock Bafana win over pretournament favourites Egypt.
Nigeria, who saw off West African rivals and defending champions Cameroon 3-2 in Saturday’s earlier thriller, certainly expect a tough match against SA at Cairo International.
They have every reason to. The Super Eagles once enjoyed an easy domination over Bafana, but Nigeria have not beaten them in their last five matches.
They lost their first ever competitive game against SA 2-0 in Uyo in June 2017 at the start of the qualifiers for Egypt 2019, in Bafana coach Stuart Baxter’s first match in charge of his second stint.
The return match in Johannesburg was a 1-1 draw where Nigeria had refereeing decisions go against them.
But to call Bafana tournament favourites after one hu ge win is a stretch, and shows Rohr would like to lull the South Africans into lalaland.
Baxter, in his prematch media conference on Tuesday, was at pains to express his view that Bafana are not favourites.
“Not at all. I think the Nigerians are absolutely one of the best teams on the continent. They have been for a long time‚” Baxter said.
“They have been a powerhouse of African football for a long time. And one game doesn’t make us favourites. I think Gernot would love to have that tag as underdogs‚ and in that way slip the pressure.”
Rohr was asked in his briefing why both coaches are so keen on the underdog tag.
“No, we don’t play this game,” he said. “We are realistic. We believe that we still have to improve. We had difficult games. We lost against Madagascar.
“We suffered against Cameroon. We made a lot of mistakes. So we are realistic.
“SA played so well against Egypt that you have to be humble. And we still have to work.
“They also have the advantage that they already know this stadium. They had this success here. And they [are] more at home [in Cairo].
“We only arrived yesterday from Alexandria, which was a wonderful place. Not so hot like here. A very nice hotel, with fresh wind, close to the sea.
“It’s always different here in Cairo. So we have to adapt. And we have only one day to adapt now. But we will be ready.”
Nigeria qualified from Group D with wins against Burundi (1-0) and Guinea (1-0), but then slipped up with a 2-0 defeat against Madagascar.
On paper, it is still a mismatch in individual quality. Nigeria’s big China-based striker Odion Ighalo was the top scorer in the qualifiers with seven goals, and is joint leader in Egypt with three strikes.
But against Egypt Bafana finally played to the strength of an excellent structure and the unity of a squad mostly based in Africa’s strongest league, the Premier Soccer League.
The big question is, can they produce two such performances in succession?
Bafana players will pocket R670,00 each if they beat Nigeria. The SA Football Association’s acting CEO Russell Paul confirmed the financial carrot on Tuesday and added that the players would earn R920,000 each if they eventually win the tournament.
Additional reporting by Mahlatse Mphahlele
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