Bafana must overcome nerves, anxiety against minnows Seychelles
South Africa may have to battle nerves and anxiety more than their opponents as they enter two crucial Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against lowly Seychelles in the coming days, starting with Saturday’s home encounter at the FNB Stadium.
On paper this is no contest, with South Africa’s vastly superior squad of professional players, some in top leagues in Europe, a massive step up from the level that Seychelles players are used to in their domestic league.
But Bafana Bafana’s home record in Nations Cup qualifiers in recent times paints a picture of a team that cannot put sides away on their own patch – their inability to pick through a heavy defence costing them dear.
Since 2011, Bafana have played eight home Nations Cup qualifiers, with a staggering six of those finishing in 0-0 draws, including against Sierra Leone, Gambia and, just last month, Libya.
There is also a 2-1 win over Sudan in that run, as well as a 1-1 draw with minnows Mauritania.
Coach Stuart Baxter is well aware of how visiting teams come and sit in defence, hoping to frustrate the home side and hit them on the break. For Seychelles, positioned at number 189 on the FIFA World Rankings, it will be no different.
If Bafana fail to claim victories in these next two games, it could have wide-reaching consequences for Baxter, whose support within the South African Football Association is being tested.
He has bemoaned a physically tough start to the season for both his Premier Soccer League and overseas-based players, but feels they will be ready to meet the islanders.
“I think they’ve done a lot of hard and some good work,” Baxter told reporters.
“But one thing we’ve found challenging is the fact that a lot of the players have come off a really heavy period with the PSL.
“So, we’ve got to try to strike that balance and you can’t run the legs off or else they would be going into the game not fresh. We have to try to be a little bit smart, but the players have certainly approached it in the right spirit.”
Baxter is not expected to make too many changes from the side that drew with Libya last month, though his hand will be forced by injury in at least three instances.
Keagan Dolly, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Vincent Pule, who all started that game, are sidelined, with in-form striker Lebo Mothiba likely to come in along with Phakamani Mahlambi.
Vilakazi’s replacement is less certain, though the fielding of Hlompho Kekana alongside Dean Furman and Kamohelo Mokotjo would give the fullbacks more license to get forward.
Seychelles coach Gavin Jeanne has admitted to KweséESPN he is trying to make his side “difficult to beat’, rather than having grand designs of attacking their hosts, certainly in Saturday’s first fixture.
That means frustrating them in attack and employing quick transitions to hit them on the counter-attack.
“For us, we are trying to rebuild our team. This is why we’ve changed the squad around quite a lot. We are trying to bring our own philosophy, trying to get across in our own way,” Jeanne said.
“We want to be a team that is difficult for others to beat, and no matter which team we play we want to try and win. It’s all about trying to win the game in our own way and that’s what we are thinking about.
“We know it will a tough game. South Africa is very good team but we have our own brand and own way and we’ll try to get a result out of it.
“We are a very small country with limited resources, a limited number of players. For us with the number of players we have to field our strongest team all the time. After Saturday’s game we’ll evaluate and see about Tuesday but there is no question about holding something back for the match where we have home advantage.”
South Africa’s only previous meeting with Seychelles came in the COSAFA Cup in 2006, when Katelgo Mphela scored a brace on debut and Lerato Chabangu also netted in his first cap. Baxter was the coach then as well, in his first spell with the side.
If Bafana can claim victory in these two games it will leave them almost certain of qualification for the Nations Cup finals in Cameroon next year.