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South Africa football coach stresses winning mentality

Soweto (South Africa) (AFP) – England-born Stuart Baxter was officially unveiled as South Africa coach Monday on a five-year contract and said winning was all that mattered.

Asked at a media conference in Soweto if he would encourage players to nutmeg opponents in the South African penalty area, he replied: “No, I would not.

“Winning is of paramount importance,” stressed the 63-year-old as he began a second spell in charge of “Bafana Bafana” (The Boys).

“Our supporters want to see winning football with a South African stamp and we have enough quality players to be very competitive.”

Baxter was named coach earlier this month, but a ceremony to introduce him was delayed because South African football boss Danny Jordaan was unavailable.

South Africa have become one of the great underachievers in Africa since making a spectacular return to international football two decades ago. 

An apartheid-induced ban on the country playing international football was lifted in 1992, and four years later hosts South Africa won the Africa Cup of Nations.

“Bafana” also qualified for the 1998 and 2002 World Cup tournaments, but there has been a steady decline since.

South Africa did appear at the 2010 World Cup, but made unwanted history by becoming the first hosts not to reach the knockout stage.

The country were ranked 12th in Africa and 64th in the world this month and have failed to qualify for three of the last five Cup of Nations tournaments. 

Baxter, who is leaving Pretoria-based top-flight club SuperSport United to become national coach, faces five  crucial fixtures between June and November.

He goes to Nigeria in June for a 2019 Cup of Nations matchday 1 qualifier against a country South Africa have never beaten in a competitive match.

South Africa share the lead with Burkina Faso in a 2018 World Cup qualifying group after two rounds, one point above favourites Senegal.

They play Cape Verde home and away, Burkina Faso at home and Senegal away with only the group winners going to Russia.

South Africans are sharply divided over whether Baxter is the right man to transform the national team into an African force.

His club record in South Africa is impressive — guiding Kaizer Chiefs to two league titles within three seasons and turning around struggling SuperSport.

But a previous two-year stint as South Africa coach from 2004 was uninspiring, and he flopped as manager of Finland.

Baxter says he “believes in his ability to coach footballers, bring them together and get the best out of them”.

He succeeds Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba, who was fired last December after publicly criticising senior national football association officials.

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