BAFANA Bafana coach Stuart Baxter talked after the 1-0 win over Egypt that propelled the South African national team into the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
“We are obviously very pleased with the outcome of the game. We had three days to put together a plan for the game and I think the players did really, really well. I think they had to play in a very brave way, to press high against such a good team as is Egypt, but for me that was the only way we could win the game, because if you allow them to build possession and get the ball into their best players, then we would have massive problems.
“So, it took courage from the players and I thought they did really, really well and I thought we had reasonable control of the game, for the most part. To get the goal and get Egypt to commit even more was obviously what we were looking for. I’m very proud of the players and very pleased with the result.”
How did you set up for the game?
“We set up to press high. It was difficult for the front players because, at the same time as we asked them to press, they had to also try to screen the through passes into the midfield players and strikers. It was a difficult job they had but they did it very well, and the support they got and the movement from side to side was very good.
“If they did get past that line, then we had to drop quickly and establish a compact block and I think that we did that very well too. We say sometimes that African players cannot be tactically smart, that northern Africans are usually so much better than the southern Africans, but I think the players, they showed a masterclass. It was excellent.”
How does this result feature in the list of achievements in your career?
“To compare results is very difficult but if you knock out the host nation in front of, what, 80 000 people? It must rank very very high. I must congratulate Egypt on having unbelievable supporters.”
What about the impact of the Cairo crowd?
“It was very important that the Egyptian team did not build momentum and get the full support of the crowd. The crowd, I think, during the game, even though they were very, very vocal, they could feel a little bit nervous because Egypt weren’t just rolling over us. To silence the crowd was one of the intentions we had. Now they can support South Africa! We would love to have some support. The support that the Egyptian national team gets is incredible.”
What changes did you make after the group phase to get this result?
“In the first couple of games we weren’t 100 per cent satisfied with our attacking play and our movement around the box was not clear and we had to improve on that. Challenging the players and showing them the movements we wanted to make was one.
“Two, we knew that playing in Cairo against Egypt was the crowd. That was another aspect. But the most important thing was to play a game that I don’t think Egypt expected us to play. They would have expected us, I think, to play deeper and therefore, that way, we surprised them with that game plan. I think we did it very well. That helped us to get a foothold in the game.” – Mzansi Football