Baxter backs experience in Cape Verde selections
Stuart Baxter has backed experience over youthful energy, but did not go as far as some commentators suggested he would when he named his squad for the FIFA World Cup qualifier double-header against Cape Verde early next month.
Baxter is a 'horse-for-courses' type of coach and so it's perhaps no surprise that he has brought in a few players whose international careers had long seemed dead for the challenge against Cape Verde.
The biggest surprise is the return of SuperSport United's 34-year-old centre-back Morgan Gould, some four-and-a-half years after he earned the last of his 27 caps.
Gould had a solid campaign under Baxter at SuperSport last season -- winning the club's Player of the Season award -- and brings bags of experience, a good temperament and fantastic football intelligence.
It is a mighty resurrection for a player whose career looked dead when he was discarded by Kaizer Chiefs at the end of the 2015/16 season.
Gould also worked with Baxter at Chiefs of course, and is clearly a player the coach believes he can trust.
His recall was not totally unexpected either, with whispers in the corridors of SAFA House emerging last week that Gould was in the frame.
Those same hushed voices also suggested that veteran midfielders Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Siphiwe Tshabalala would also be brought in by Baxter, though those rumours have proven unfounded.
With Bidvest Wits' Thulani Hlatshwayo having been confirmed as captain of the squad for the matches against Cape Verde, he seems certain to play.
And assuming he will take up his regular centre-back role and not revert to right-back, where he played for much of his early career, that means Gould will battle it out with Kaizer Chiefs' Erick Mathoho and Rivaldo Coetzee (who played for Ajax Cape Town over the weekend despite his pre-season exile) for a starting berth alongside Hlatshwayo.
Gould might well get the nod in Praia in the first game on September 1, when Cape Verde are likely to go for broke and try to pressure Bafana into making errors.
There is also a recall after two years for Bidvest Wits attacking midfielder Daylon Claasen, who has played just a handful of games in 2017 having been frozen out at 1860 Munich towards the end of his stay in Germany.
Claasen (27) is a technically gifted player, but tends to blow very hot and cold and you never really know which player is going to turn up on the day.
He might struggle to force his way into the side in any event, with Keagan Dolly, Themba Zwane and Thulani Serero -- who Claasen grew up with in the Ajax Cape Town development programme -- other options in attacking midfield.
Serero's return is welcome and by all accounts he has started the season well with his table-topping new Dutch Eredivisie side Vitesse Arnhem.
Baxter left Serero out of the squad that won 2-0 in Nigeria in the opening game of their 2019 African Nations Cup qualification campaign, citing his total lack of game-time at Ajax Amsterdam in the last campaign.
At the time he suggested that if Serero started playing again, and could prove form, he would take a look at him and he has stuck to his word about the 27-year-old.
Meanwhile, Baxter has an over-supply of quality central midfielders in the form of Hlompo Kekana, Dean Furman (Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United captains respectively) and the foreign-based trio of Andile Jali, Kamohelo Mokotjo and Bongani Zungu, and it could be his toughest decision as two which get the nod to start.
Furman looks likely to grab one of the two places given Baxter's past comments about the combative midfielder, but as for who will partner him is anybody's guess and any of the other contenders have the potential to be match-winners with their goal-threat on the day.
Jali at KV Oostende in Belgium and Zungu for Portuguese side Vitoria Setubal have not had the greatest of starts to the new season and could perhaps miss out.
Baxter has gone for just one targetman-style striker up front in Bradley Grobler, who could get the nod to partner the pacey Tokelo Rantie, with Percy Tau, Lebogang Manyama and Kermit Erasmus potential impact players off the bench.
Grobler lacks the pace of his rivals, but has a superb touch, uses the ball intelligently and is a little more robust than the others.
Bafana will host Cape Verde in the second match during the FIFA break in Durban on September 5.
South Africa drew 1-1 in Burkina Faso in their qualification opener, before claiming a controversial 2-1 home victory over Senegal in their second game.
If they can grab six points against an ailing Cape Verde side, they could take charge of the pool, especially if at least one of the matches between Burkina Faso and Senegal is drawn.
South Africa squad:
Goalkeepers: Darren Keet, Itumeleng Khune, Ronwen Williams
Defenders: Rivaldo Coetzee, Morgan Gould, S'fiso Hlanti, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Tebogo Langerman, Erick Mathoho, Abbubaker Mobara, Ramahlwe Mphahlele
Midfielders: Daylon Claasen, Keagan Dolly, Dean Furman, Andile Jali, Hlompho Kekana, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Thulani Serero, Bongani Zungu, Themba Zwane
Forwards: Kermit Erasmus, Bradley Grobler, Lebogang Manyama, Tokelo Rantie, Percy Tau