Baxter believes altitude can benefit Bafana against Nigeria

Head coach Stuart Baxter during the South African national mens soccer team training session at Steyn City School on November 13, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Head coach Stuart Baxter during the South African national mens soccer team training session at Steyn City School on November 13, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter believes the altitude factor in Johannesburg can weigh in his team’s favour in their key 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Nigeria at FNB Stadium on Saturday.

Nigeria will arrive at OR Tambo International Airport in the early hours of Friday morning‚ embarking from their charter flight hell-bent on revenge for Bafana’s first competitive victory against the Super Eagles‚ 2-0 in Uyo in June last year at the start of the Cameroon 2019 qualifiers.

In Johannesburg they will encounter not just the mid-30s oppressive heat that has plagued the city this week‚ but seem sure to also struggle to acclimatise to the rarefied air at the 1750-metre altitude.

“I don’t think the heat’s going to be that much of an advantage for us. I think that’s the same for both‚” Baxter said.

“I think Nigeria are probably used to it. Maybe their players who play in Europe are not as used to it as we are.

“I don’t know if we’re going to water the pitch‚ because they water the pitch in Europe‚ and their players are maybe more comfortable on that than our boys. But we’ll see.

“They certainly think that the altitude is an issue‚ because they’re coming in on Friday.

“But my experience with altitude is that if you don’t come in on the day of the game you’ve got to come in 12 days early. That’s the scientific consensus.

“I think a day or two days is just enough time for them to get heavy-legged. That’s nice.

“I was hoping that would be an advantage‚ and then the crowd would be an advantage‚ and then us being a bit better than they expect us to be.

“That’s what we’ve got to work on. After 15 minutes they’ve got to think ‘They’re a bit better‚ a bit quicker‚ a bit sharper than we actually thought they would be’.

“And if we can get the game there‚ then we’ve got a bit of parity.”

Group E leaders Nigeria (nine points) and second-placed South Africa (eight) can both clinch qualification for Cameroon 2019 with a victory on Saturday.

Libya are in third place on four points‚ and Seychelles in last on one.

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