Mixed feelings for Bafana's Baxter after Nigeria draw
South Africa coach Stuart Baxter says he is "proud and frustrated" after his side played to a 1-1 draw with Nigeria at the FNB Stadium on Saturday to leave their participation at next year's Africa Cup of Nations in the balance.
Bafana Bafana fell behind to a Buhle Mkhwanazi own goal after only nine minutes, but equalized late in the first half through Lebo Mothiba after excellent work from Man of the Match Percy Tau.
That pleased Baxter, but he was frustrated that his players did not go for the jugular and push for the win that would have secured qualification for Cameroon next June-July.
"I said to the players in the dressing room, on one hand I am very proud, but on the other very frustrated," Baxter told journalists.
"If we had been more true to ourselves and kept on playing what we discussed before the game, then I thought we could have knocked them over.
"We started going too long, too quickly, and when [Nigeria] were tiring, we needed to move them around and play in the spaces between them and not only try and get Percy or Lebo in behind them.
"At that point I think the players needed to say to themselves, 'we go for this'. That is not easy when you have come back from a goal down and against a team that has just come from a World Cup," he added. "So I think I will forgive the players that one."
Baxter hailed the character of his players, who did not let their heads drop after conceding a calamitous early goal. "It wasn't just going a goal down, it was going a goal down in the opening 10 minutes against Nigeria," Baxter continued. "Some of them [his players] would have been excused for thinking this would be an uphill battle.
"The way that we played, we worked hard and played well. The players showed character, if we have had issues in South African football in the past, a lot of them have been mental.
"Do we believe enough, do we have confidence or do we just have confidence when the media pat us on the back? I really think if we can get to grips with those mental things, we can win."
Bafana must now go to a neutral North African nation in March to play Libya, where they will need to avoid defeat to book a place in Cameroon.
Rather than being fearful of the outcome, Baxter says the players and supporters should be looking forward to the challenge.
"It is a shame that we can't talk about, 'do we think we will win the game against Libya?'" the coach concluded. "We are refining what we are good at. If we can keep on doing that then there is no reason why we shouldn't look forward to the game.
"It will be a knife to the throat job, but those are the sorts of games you should want to play in. "We are well aware the minefield we will go into against Libya but I hope we deal with that.
"I am certainly looking forward to it."