Johannesburg - New Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter has a perfect opportunity to win South Africans’ hearts on Saturday.
Baxter could not have asked for a better welcome than a game against Nigeria – South Africa’s football nemesis.
These rivals meet in the opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo.
The game is arguably the toughest of the group (which includes Libya and the Seychelles) for Bafana, and Baxter is hoping to get off to a winning start, which will definitely put him in an enviable position as he would become the first coach to stop the Super Eagles’ stranglehold on Bafana.
In fact, Baxter is the only Bafana coach to have beaten Nigeria – albeit in a friendly game – back in 2004.
With his second coming receiving mixed reactions from locals, Baxter has a chance to prove to his detractors that he is the best man for the job.
But he knows that he is up against a resurgent side that is still smarting after missing two previous editions of the tournament.
Two years ago, Bafana were the reason Nigeria failed to defend their title in Equatorial Guinea.
Although statistics point to Nigeria’s dominance with seven wins in 12 outings, Baxter would hope history does not repeat itself.
Under previous coach Ephraim Mashaba, Bafana came close to ending Nigeria’s hoodoo, but allowed the Super Eagles to come back from 2-0 down to force a draw.
The Englishman has recalled that game’s two-goal hero, Tokelo Rantie, to the squad, hoping the Gençlerbirligi SK striker will be able to continue where he left off against Nigeria.
Rantie had not been called to the national team since he snubbed the call up when Bafana went to Burkina Faso last year.
Baxter called on his players to be prepared for anything in Nigeria.
“We need warriors for this game; players who can fight and not be intimidated,” said Baxter last week.
With seven players involved in club competitions this weekend, Baxter will be hoping they join the national team unscathed. Their involvement hampered Baxter’s preparations as he had wanted to start his camp early.
Baxter said he would know a lot about Nigeria by the time the match kicks off on Saturday after getting his contact in Manchester to get him an intelligence report on Nigeria’s two friendly matches in Europe.
Nigeria warmed up for this match with a 3-0 victory over Togo on Thursday night in Paris.
Baxter knows that a win on Saturday will go a long way to earning him more supporters.