The former national coach’s detailed assessment sheds light on what worked in Egypt and what didn’t.
Stuart Baxter gave an honest and positive report on Bafana Bafana’s participation in Afcon in Egypt.
In his report, which he presented to the technical committee last weekend, Baxter said what could have gone wrong went wrong from the beginning.
“It was obvious that the lack of match time affected both the players’ sharpness and confidence in their fitness and readiness,” the coach said.
“That said, we still looked as strong as them at the finish, and the stats supported that impression.”
He reserved his praise for the players, saying they coped well under the circumstances, and he singled out their unity in the camp as the best he had seen.
“I believe that the players dealt quite well with the above. The one mental issue that we must address is to keep our focus on what we know works for us, especially in critical phases.”
“This group [of players] was together for almost seven weeks and showed great patience and desire as there were constant problems and frustrations, so it would have been easy for them to become demotivated, but they always showed an attitude of wanting to be better. They should be commended for this.”
“The squad did as well as could be expected given the limited match practice they received. They took time to get to full sharpness and, once they had achieved their normal levels, they coped much better and had more confidence.
“The acclimatisation work in Dubai went well and helped us with our rehydration strategies and with coping with our loading.”
“At the outset, my first thought was to play a 4-3-3 that could revert easily into a Libya 3-5-2 or a 4-4-2 with our two big lads when we needed to go route one. Unfortunately, the condition of some of our players, the no-show of Rivaldo [Coetzee] and the lack of game time to experiment left me with questions, and the players were feeling more comfortable with our 4-2-3-1 formation.
“The lack of confidence in their fitness and readiness meant that we started slowly. We didn’t open the field or defend on the front foot enough, yet when we did, we gave our opponents problems. When we were preparing for Egypt, it was crystal clear that the way to win it was to revert to 4-3-3 and be very much on the front foot.
“[Thembinkosi] Lorch came back in and we carried out the game plan excellently. The uncertainty was gone and the confidence returned. It was good to see the earlier work we’d done bearing fruit.
“The players now felt like they had a style, but as we showed against Nigeria, we must show tactical durability and reproduce the basics in every game so that we can compete with the best.”
“We need to be able to create space for our offensive game, only then can we show our true technical abilities. If the game remains tight, we sometimes look fragile compared with our more physically blessed African opposition.
“This, and being more focused and clinical, are the keys to being able to show our true level of skill.”
“Molefi Ntseki was a great support in general and a very useful foil for the sessions.
“Considering he has not had his contractual situation taken care of for so long, he showed surprising loyalty.
“Joshua Smith solved the problems of heat and travelling fatigue in tournament loading and recuperation strategies exceptionally well.
“André Arendse kept the goalkeepers in good shape and his work was always relevant to our tactical aims. He must be encouraged, if not instructed to qualify through the courses, however, as a role model for coach education.
“Mark Fish settled nicely into his role and cooperated well with the rest of the staff.
“His presence was also enjoyed by the players.
“Mark did a great job as usual, working selflessly to make sure that briefs and debriefings were sharp and functional.”
Baxter's player report