Baxter hoping Itumeleng Khune brings the magic
South Africa coach Stuart Baxter is hoping to use speed and guile to overcome the more physically imposing -- but at times lumbering -- Burkina Faso when the sides meet in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in Soweto on October 7.
Baxter has made a number of changes to his squad after the disastrous back-to-back defeats to Cape Verde this month which, coupled with FIFA's order to replay their 2-1 victory over Senegal from last year, has thrown their campaign to reach Russia into disarray.
South Africa must win all three of their remaining games -- which includes home and away ties against the Senegalese in November -- if they are to stand any hope of qualifying for the World Cup, and even then it would not be certain.
Baxter has, not surprisingly, recalled the country's undisputed number one goalkeeper, Itumeleng Khune, after he missed the Cape Verde calamity through injury. In his absence Ronwen Williams and Wayne Sandilands both disappointed, but they have retained their places in the squad.
The Kaizer Chiefs keeper brings not only vast experience, but also organisational skills at the back which were at times missing from squad captain and centre-back Thulani Hlatshwayo.
Khune was on top of his game in the first match against Burkina Faso last year when Bafana Bafana claimed a credible 1-1 draw in Ouagadougou. His return to the squad is arguably the most significant change and had he played against Cape Verde, the results could have been very different.
The loss of Chiefs right-back Ramahlwe Mphahlele to long-term injury has seen two uncapped players called up, with one certain to make their debut. Bidvest Wits teenager Reeve Frosler and Cape Town City fullback Thami Mkhize will vie for starting berth, with both having displayed good form both at the tail-end of last season and the start of this one.
Baxter has retained faith with Chiefs centre-back Erick Mathoho after he was sent-off in Praia for a bit of petulance, but faces a difficult choice for the player to pair with Hlatshwayo as both Morgan Gould and Clayton Daniels would be more suited to counter the physical Burkinabe.cMathoho has height and stature, but is not the most robust of defenders and has not played at all since the first game against Cape Verde.
The midfield has a familier look to it, though Dean Furman is suspended and so will have to be replaced having started both games against Cape Verde. Mamelodi Sundowns' Sibusiso Vilakazi has been included despite starting only two games this season, as has new Al Ahly forward Phakamani Mahlambi, who will bring pace and an X-factor to the squad.
It is clear that Baxter is undecided on his forwards though, and that he is looking for a targetman to play. There is a recall for in-form Azerbaijan-based striker Dino Ndlovu after he impressed in the UEFA Champions League for Qarabag against Chelsea last week, and a first call-up for junior international Lebo Mothiba, who plays for French second-tier side Valenciennes on loan from Lille. Both bring a physical element and some pace, though Ndlovu is vastly more experienced.
Out go France-based Kermit Erasmus, who has not played a competitive game since May, and Tokelo Rantie, who plies his trade in Turkey. The latter is a surprise given that he has looked Bafana's most likely source of goals for the last few years.
Baxter explained that he dropped the forward as he had not played for Gençlerbirliği in their last two games because of a suspension. Yet the same rings true for Mathoho, which speaks of double-standards and perhaps another agenda is at play. Baxter was unhappy that Rantie turned up late to the camp before the Cape Verde matches, and perhaps this is his punishment.