OVER a year ago, Stuart Baxter looked like a man who was helplessly watching as his house burn down while fully aware that he is the one who had left the primus stove on.
With Senegal upsetting Bafana Bafana in the 2018 World Cup qualifying decider, Baxter stood on the Peter Mokaba Stadium touchline and watched a dream go up in smoke.
Well, it seems as if that smouldering fire has since gone unnoticed in the following months, leading to the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Another qualifier dream hangs in the balance as Bafana prepare for a royal battle with Libya in Tunisia for the spot in the 2019 Afcon finals in Egypt.
Baxter has announced his squad, calling his selection “probably the most difficult I’ve ever had”.
But is it?
Is the latest team the best he could come up with, given the sheer magnitude of the match?
You could see the contradiction being played out on Baxter’s face when he explained the omission of in-form Kermit Erasmus for the very same reasons he has picked returnee Keagan Dolly.
There is no time to experiment, he said.
Yet, newbie Bruce Bvuma is in the team ahead of experienced Wayne Sandilands, who currently plays Caf Champions League football with Orlando Pirates.
Baxter talks about the long-term future, which he might not even be part of, should Bafana stumble in the ultimate qualifier.
But it certainly doesn’t look like the man has given himself a far better chance of succeeding on his mission, in unknown territory away from home. The public reaction to the squad announcement has been mixed, with the cynics out in full force blasting Baxter.
‘‘There are many players that get recommended by coaches‚ by media‚ by people on the street‚ my wife‚ the dog‚ everybody... Everybody knows a good player,” he said.
I hope those words don’t come back to bite him.
The Scot has lost many friends since that World Cup qualifier disaster, and the appointment of his son Lee Baxter as the Bafana goalkeeper coach.
And yes, nothing can make up for the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, not with the embarrassing back-to-back defeats to Cape Verde still rankling.
Granted, injuries have been unkind to Baxter, this time accounting for the absence of inspirational skipper Itumeleng Khune.
As many as eight players are missing from the team that beat Nigeria in the opening qualifier match in Uyo.
Yet, excuses won’t wash. Certainly, not if Bafana fail to emerge from a group which includes lowly Seychelles and a Libya team from a war-torn country.
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