Last roll of the dice for Bafana coach Stuart Baxter


Stuart Baxter stands seven days away from the biggest match of his life.
Having twice showed an allergy to qualify SA for a major tournament - the 2006 and 2018 World Cups - Baxter is hoping for third time lucky as Bafana Bafana gear up for a gigantic encounter against Libya in Sfax, Tunisia, on Sunday.
Bafana need just a point to join Nigeria, who qualified with a game to spare for the 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Maximum points for Libya will see them leapfrog Bafana and book their berth for the competition which has been expanded from a 16 to a 24-team tournament and will be staged in Egpyt from 21 June to 19 July.
A campaign that started with a credible, chest-pumping, confidence-boosting result now hangs by a thread thanks to Baxter's own doing. Under his tutelage Bafana have been schizophrenic.
On occasion Baxter makes a brilliant decision. That was the case when SA put down a marker in emphatic fashion against nemesis Nigeria.
It was not just the 2-0 scoreline, but the manner it was achieved, to kick off the Group E qualifiers to a flying start. On display was fluid football peppered with intricate interplay as Bafana got their first official win over the Super Eagles.
It was vintage Bafana, the best of Baxter and a sweet victory away from home. Baxter also succeeds demonstrating an uncanny ability to take you on the highest high only to dump you in the deepest depths of despair, all in one stroke.
The delirium of clipping the Super Eagles' wings was followed by an underwhelming goalless draw at home against Libya.
Itumeleng Khune's heroics and the woodwork (twice) saved Bafana's blushes in an embarrassing showing in Durban.
A half-a-dozen hammering of the professional amateurs from Seychelles in Jozi revived qualification hopes.
Bafana's bipolar nature came to the fore when they failed to repeat the tennis score, shooting blanks in Victoria against the group's whipping boys who had a full-time pastry chef, bus driver and air-conditioner mechanic in their fold. The woodwork came to Bafana's rescue again when they hosted the 2013 edition champions Nigeria at FNB.
Most crucially, Nigeria's legitimate goal was disallowed, allowing Bafana to escape with a precious point.
Sometimes Baxter's reasoning refuses to have a joint venture with logic only to be hit by an exodus of reality.
These mishaps have left SA second on the group log standing, needing a point to secure their spot in the land of the Pharoahs. Baxter allowed what looked like a molehill to graduate into a mountain.
Bafana could have secured qualification long before their final group match. Indeed selection is Baxter's prerogative.
But a coach who chooses a French connection of Bongani Zungu and Keagan Dolly, who have not kicked a ball in anger for their Ligue 1 clubs Amiens SC and Montpellier respectively, for a match of this stature is dicing with death.
There's no doubt that when Zungu and Dolly are fit, they are hard to resist and can be trusted to deliver the goods.
If the duo play and do well, perfect. They play and the team tanks, woe unto Baxter.
There will be no room left for him to wiggle. A defeat will spell the end of the road for the Brit. Critics will point back at his selection inconsistency, a crime of which Baxter is a repeat offender.
He is wont to speak left and act right and has been accused of telling a baldfaced lie by Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy regarding his decision to omit Kermit Erasmus from his squad.
"Based on the fact that Kermit has not played a lot, until let's say, about the last four or five weeks, is probably reason to back off slightly. I did say to Benni I thought he'd done a fantastic job with Kermit.
"And I think the reason he has is that Kermit plays best when he is loved and appreciated," said Baxter. "I think Kermit has problems if he's on the periphery. Because he feels like he's an important player, and he is an important player. But maybe he doesn't deal with it too well if he's a squad player."
McCarthy was not pleased.
"Baxter goes and says that Kermit is not a team player, I completely disagree with him," responded McCarthy.
"It's a bit frustrating when you see these things happening.
"I had a conversation with him and told him that Kermit is 95% ready. When he didn't qualify then we know why. It is because we don't select players based on merit here. Kermit deserves to be in the Bafana squad, but for some reason he is not."
Libya won't be pushovers. For Baxter's sake, Bafana better finish the group with the effort, energy and enthusiasm they showed in their opener against Nigeria to stop this match from being the last throw of the dice for Baxter on the Bafana bench...

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