Bafana Perfect Baxter’s Tactics…And Other Tweaks That Helped Win Against The Pharaohs
By Katlego Mereko
For many South Africans, it sure is a queer feeling going into a new week at the back of an impressive and equally important Bafana Bafana win.
Thanks to a late-show sucker-punch from reigning PSL Player of the Season, Thembinkosi Lorch, a Mohamed Salah-led Egypt succumbed to a shock 1-0 defeat in front of their home fans to see Bafana go through to the AFCON quarterfinals.
With the mist of the euphoria from the win in Cairo only but clearing away ahead of a daunting clash against Nigeria on Wednesday, it will be clearer to the discerning eye that Bafana’s win on Saturday was a culmination of Baxter’s tactics coming to fruition more than the romance of a miracle agent coming to Bafana’s rescue.
Baxter still sought to hit Egypt on the break. Absorbing pressure and covering spaces when not in possession, then pressing to dispossess or force a mistake to precipitate a quick transition. This was the case against Egypt as it was especially in matches against Cote d’Ivoire & Namibia.
The difference is that in this match, the tactics worked. Perhaps as Baxter has recently intimated, the lack of pre-Afcon preparations may have contributed to the late grasp of his game plan.
In all of Bafana Bafana’s group games, the sore sticking point was Bafana in possession. The midfield looked mostly unsure of itself, especially in the first game and did not execute the passing game it’s well capable of. In Saturday’s game, however, the boys showed up on the passing front, with Furman, Mokotjo and Zungu suddenly seeming like the ideal midfield trio.
The consensus among football journalists seems to suggest that the turning point for Bafana Bafana came in the 20th minute, but a closer look reveals that it was the delightfully slick combination of passes in the 14th minute that saw the boys grow in confidence. It was from that play that dangerman Percy Tau had another go at the Egyptian defence, going on a mazy run on the right in a trademark slalom, before unleashing a rasping shot that unfortunately went straight into Mohamed El-Shenawy’s gloves.
Somehow the Pharaohs seemed to change their attitude after this attack, showing a little more respect as they sat back to suffer another incursion in the 20th minute that ended up in that Tau freekick that seemed destined to hit the back of the net but for El-Shenawy’s outstretched arm to tip it over the bar.
It was also an intelligent passing movement that saw Bafana score through Lorch in the 85th minute.
Changes in starting XI: A tactical intent or a mirage?
At the back of Saturday’s win, Baxter has been praised for not sticking unfaithfully to one line-up. The Scot has fielded a different line up in each of the three group games and once again changing personnel against Egypt.
However, many are keen to point out that Baxter’s preferred men in the form of Furman and Zwane would not have been left out of the team had they not suffered a knock and a suspension respectively.
Hlanti a Revelation at Left back
The Bidvest Wits left-back won the hearts of South African football lovers with a workman-like performance against one of the world’s most dangerous attackers, Mohamed Salah.
The Liverpool forward was mostly kept at bay at Cairo International Stadium, with the lanky left-back matching Salah’s pace and outmuscling the diminutive Egyptian.
Like in most close wins, lady luck can be eithe your worst enemy or best companion. For Bafana Bafana, it was the latter, as Egypt wasted very good chances to go ahead in the match, not least Mahmoud Trezeguet’s tame attempts that were well covered by Ronwen Williams.