Bafana Bafana managed to claw their way to the break goalless‚ but Stuart Baxter said he was far from confident at that stage‚ and knew he had to rectify key aspects if South Africa were to avoid being swamped by Nigeria.
In the coach’s first game back for his second tenure‚ Bafana were unsurprisingly not cohesive in the first half of Saturday’s 2-0 Africa Cup of Nations win in Nigeria‚ South Africa’s first in victory in a competitive game against the Super Eagles.
Bafana had four days’ training under their new coach‚ Nigeria had been on a three-week camp in France.
Still‚ South Africa had the best chance of the half‚ when Nigeria goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi fumbled Tebogo Langerman’s cross and Themba Zwane hit the upright.
Baxter said that‚ and an movement when Keagan Dolly could not get a shot away‚ were rare instances where Bafana’s attacking gameplan came together in the half.
Asked if he was confident at that stage‚ the coach said: “No. I thought‚ the first half was 20 minutes under the cosh where we couldn’t get out. We didn’t have any meaningful possession‚ we didn’t open the field.
“I knew that if we continued to not open the field we were going to get bogged down. So‚ I had four things in my pocket that (assistant coach) Thabo (Senong) had written down that I thought I had to address‚ which if I didn’t we were going to get swamped; and if I did‚ we had a chance.
“Because we had done it twice‚ and that’s where we hit the post‚ and Keagan should have got a shot off and didn’t – but it was a great attack to get us there.
“And I turned to Thabo‚ and said‚ ‘That’s our game tonight‚ and we’ve not done it nearly enough’. That was because we had rushed when we had been in possession‚ because we were chasing the game.
“So I went into the change-rooms‚ and it was calm‚ and I said‚ ‘Guys‚ this is our chance. If we open the game up we’ll be better than they think.
“They think they’re going to swamp us in the second half. He (Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr) is horse-whipping them in there’.
“I said‚ ‘Come on‚ we do this properly’. So we spoke about passing the ball into pockets of space (rather than to feet‚ keeping players’ backs to goal‚ meaning they would turn and lose possession).
“We spoke about turning Nigeria over more quickly. We spoke about getting our fullbacks higher down the line.
“And suddenly we’re playing better. And then the confidence showed‚ and the swagger‚ and the little backheels around the box.
“And that’s Bafana’s game. We’ve got to be organised defensively‚ and build upon that.”
Bafana’s opening goal came from an overlapping run and cross by right-back Ramahlwe Mphahlele‚ headed in by Tokelo Rantie in the 56th minute.
Zwane hit the post again from a fine buildup‚ then substitute Percy Tau caught Nigeria on the counter-attack from an SA corner for the second in the 80th.
By Marc Strydom‚ in Uyo‚ Nigeria – Tiso Black Star Group/Tiso Black Star Group Sport