CAIRO – South Africa coach Stuart Baxter said his team’s display in a 1-0 loss to Ivory Coast on Monday showed they could provide a tough test for any opponent at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Nicolas Pepe twice went close with free-kicks on another hot afternoon in Cairo, but it was Jonathan Kodjia’s goal on 64 minutes that gave 2015 champions Ivory Coast victory in the side’s opening Group D match.
“I think we dealt with them quite well in first half and it was an even game. In the second half the heat affected both teams and the tempo dropped, but I think we were comfortable in the game,” said Baxter, as temperatures again peaked around 37 degrees Celsius.
“We can’t complain about losing the game, but I thought the players put in a great performance, and it’s a great learning curve for us.”
Having missed out on the 2017 competition, South Africa’s return has seen them placed in what appears the toughest section with Herve Renard’s Morocco waiting for Bafana Bafana in their final game.
Their next match is a regional clash against neighbours Namibia, who conceded late in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Morocco, and Baxter admits South Africa’s knockout aspirations will be on the line.
“The target for the remaining two games? I think we showed today that we belong in this tournament, we showed we can be a tough opponent for everybody,” said Baxter.
“We are going into both games looking to take points. I think we showed enough to say we can actually take points from this group.”
Unlike Ivory Coast coach Ibrahim Kamara, Renard and Baxter, there is no pressure on Namibia boss Ricardo Mannetti, who admits his team are lucky just to be in Egypt.
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“It’s going to be a good game, it’s a local derby sort of game, so I think it’s going to be a much more combative game,” said Baxter of Friday’s encounter with Namibia.
“There are lots of ways to win a game; it’s not just about throwing the kitchen sink. You’ve got to be smart about it, and not step on a landmine. If either team loses, then they can say goodbye.”