Bafana froze‚ says disappointed Baxter

Bafana Bafana started well‚ but froze after Cape Verde equalised in the South Africans’ disappointing 2-1 World Cup qualifying defeat in Praia on Friday night‚ said national team coach Stuart Baxter.

South Africa controlled the opening phase of the game‚ taking a 14th-minute lead when Tokelo Rantie was allowed space to use his pace and ghost through and score.

The South Africans then‚ instead of pressing the advantage‚ lost their nerve in an all-too familiar fashion in a match that could have put them firmly in control of Group D‚ against a team who had lost both their opening games.

“We knew when we came here that there were natural difficulties with this game” Baxter said in his post-match press conference.

“One‚ when I watched Cape Verde’s other games against Burkina Faso and Senegal‚ apart from moments where Cape Verde switched off‚ they had been close games. So we knew that this was not a bad team.

“Secondly the (artificial) pitch is not the easiest to play on. And this was maybe Cape Verde’s last chance to pick up points that could maybe lead to somewhere.

“I thought we opened the game very well. I thought we controlled the first 20 minutes. We scored.

“I think when we conceded the 1-1 goal it became a bit of a mental problem where the players froze‚ they didn’t react.

“In the second half we did what we could do. We tried to play more‚ we tried to have more patience and composure.

“And even when we were down to 10 men‚ I was disappointed that we didn’t get the result. But I’m looking for reasons not excuses.”

After Nuno Rocha equalised softly in the 33rd‚ the forward made it 2-1 from the penalty spot in the 38th.

Bafana’s early authority degenerated into something of a shambles.

Centreback Mulomowandau Mathoho had missed a clearance for Rocha’s first‚ then allowed Ryan Mendes easily past him to put Dean Furman under pressure to concede the penalty.

The low-on-confidence centreback’s evening capitulated when he was red-carded with a rush of blood challenge on Stopira when Bafana were trying to fight their way back into the game in the 68th.

Some of Baxter’s decisions will be questioned.

Ronwen Williams has had some unconvincing performances in goal for Bafana.

He was the man in possession having been named in the original squad before the injuries to Itumeleng Khune and Darren Keet. But 34-year-old replacement Wayne Sandilands had more overall experience‚ including a starring early substitutes’ appearance in the Alexandria second leg of Mamelodi Sundowns’ Caf Champions League victory over Zamalek last year.

Williams’s shakiness did not inspire his defence.

Were Kamohelo Mokotjo and Bradley Grobler the men to turn things around off the bench ahead of Hlompo Kekana and Percy Tau?

These qualifiers are far from over. Senegal host Burkina Faso in Dakar late on Saturday night‚ with the reverse match in Ouagadougou on Tuesday. The two might cancel each other out in tight West African derbies.

Bafana should beat Cape Verde in Durban on Tuesday. By the end of these five days‚ the South Africans might come through relatively unscathed.

This was also just just Baxter’s third match in charge in a “serious”‚ non-Chan or Cosafa Cup game with his full squad.

If mistakes were made‚ though‚ they have left Bafana once again relying on other results when they might have had the Group D driving seat.