After all the pressure, and after all the controversy surrounding his tenure as Bafana Bafana coach, Stuart Baxter is the toast of the country after the SA national football team qualified for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, scheduled to be played in Egypt from June 21 to July 19.
Bafana defeated Libya 2-1 at the Stade Taieb Mhiri in Sfax, Tunisia, on Sunday night to finish as runners-up in qualifying Group E. Nigeria topped the group standings with 13 points, followed by South Africa (12), Libya (seven) and Seychelles (one). But, with the top two teams securing a spot at Egypt 2019, celebrations were the order of the day after striker Percy Tau produced two magical strikes to seal the much-needed victory for Bafana and beleaguered coach Baxter.
To go with qualification, Bafana’s statistics during the campaign make for good reading too. They were among only five countries to have qualified for Egypt unbeaten, while the team’s defensive work deserves a special mention as they conceded just two goals during the qualification programme.
The coach’s tactics were certainly spot on for the victory over Libya on Sunday. He deployed a 3-5-2 formation as Bafana kept things tight and compact. They allowed the opposition to dominate possession and then made use of a deadly and swift counter-attack strategy. And, with the predatory Tau up front, Baxter had a potent weapon to unleash whenever Bafana had the ball.
While the entire Bafana squad gave their all for the cause, and they all deserve praise for the manner in which they went about their business, goalkeeper Darren Keet emerged as the hero. He was brilliant throughout, keeping his team in the match with a series of superb saves, especially during the first half when Libya were particularly dominant.
Baxter, his squad and the rest of South Africa now anxiously await the draw for the 2019 Nations Cup, to see who Bafana will be up against when they arrive in Egypt in three months’ time.
The draw is scheduled to take place on April 12 in Cairo, Egypt.
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