Baxter, SAFA and complacency all to blame!
Cape Town – Former Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula famously labelled Bafana Bafana a "bunch of losers" and the tag still seems to apply after a disastrous 2018 Soccer World Cup qualifying campaign that effectively ended with a 2-0 defeat to Senegal last Friday.
Since stepping into what must be the toughest job in the country, Stuart Baxter made several selection and tactical errors throughout Bafana's bid to qualify for Russia 2018.
A coach gets rewarded very well financially to make the right decisions at the right times and Baxter simply came up short on too many occasions.
Immediately after Baxter snubbed Thulani Serero from his first squad to face Nigeria on June 10, I questioned this decision as it smelled of a new coach trying to stamp his authority on his squad.
I dislike these kinds of power-play decisions as players’ respect and trust should be earned and not won over by showing them who's boss. This decision came back to haunt Baxter as any team without their best players will always suffer.
Baxter can also be accused of choosing 'his' players, who he had worked with at SuperSport United and Kaizer Chiefs. This blind loyalty seemed to trump current form in selecting his squad and cost the national team dearly.
Players like Morgan Gould, Eric Mathoho, Dean Furman, Siphiwe Tshabalala and other questionable selections will definitely in hindsight be seen as mistakes.
If you look back at the performances and errors leading to goals – especially in the defeats to Cape Verde – you’d find that Baxter's selections are a direct link.
There are too many examples of poor performances and individual errors to mention in this column.
Complacency also played a part in the shock defeats to the Islanders.
Baxter also didn’t handle the Serero situation well even though the player may have shown a poor attitude. The Vitesse Arnhem midfielder is South Africa's best player and obviously felt frustrated at not being involved in three previous qualifiers.
Part of a coach’s job is to know how to man-manage and bring the best out of the different characters in your squad and the team ended up suffering for the breakdown in their relationship.
Baxter and his management team were also regularly outsmarted tactically with a common theme throughout the qualifiers being of teams catching us on the counter-attack.
Opposing coaches seemed to find it easy in identifying our possession-based style of play and that we'd be susceptible to counters. All that was left to do was choose a weak flank from which to attack.
We seemed either unaware and ill-equipped to stop this from happening with Cape Verde and Senegal using it to devastating effect.
The South African Football Association (SAFA) also did us no favours by wrongfully stating that Andile Jali, who would have certainly started against Senegal, was suspended.
It's sad to say but this is all too familiar of a football association that has overseen a steady decline in South African soccer with a clear-out long overdue.
So heading into the crucial double-header against Senegal needing to win – or stay home – it was obvious that Bafana needed to score goals, so I was left scratching my head when Baxter named a line-up with no recognised striker.
Although the impressive Percy Tau did well against Burkina Faso, he is not an out-and-out goalscorer and the more accomplished Senegalese defenders dealt easily with the diminutive attacker.
Tau needed someone next to him to give us more of a goal threat while Dino Ndlovu and Bradley Grobler – who have been scoring regularly – were stuck on the bench.
Senegal got their tactics spot-on as Bafana were again predictably caught on the counter by the explosive Sadio Mane who was involved in both goals which put Bafana out of their misery.
I can't even fathom a way forward yet for South African football as I am still wrapping my head around all the mistakes made during another disastrous qualifying campaign.
But here's an impressively confusing quote from Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands to sum it all up…
"Success and failure is written in ice and tomorrow the sun shines." pic.twitter.com/mcVgfBis2N
— Wayne Sandilands (@Wsandilands40) November 6, 2017
Baden Gillion is Sport24’s soccer journalist on all soccer related news. Follow Baden on Twitter.