“I think Percy is going to be an important player for South Africa for a very long time”
Stuart Baxter insists that stalwart Percy Tau will maintain his good form for South Africa for a number of years to come.
The Bafana Bafana coach is showering Tau with praises after the striker booted the senior national team to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with his brace against Libya in Sfax, Tunisia, in the last round of the qualifiers of the continental soccer showpiece.
It was a do-or-die match for the South Africans as a number of jobs were on the line including that of Baxter himself, who’s failed to propel his troops to the last two major tournaments – last year’s World Cup and the 2017 Afcon.
But fresh from being lavished with praise by England legend Ian Wright, Tau churned out the goods for the South Africans as he netted a second-half brace that ensured that Bafana qualified for the Afcon – finishing second in group E, a point behind Nigeria; managing to finish the qualifiers without a loss to their account.
“I think Percy is going to be an important player for South Africa for a very long time,” Baxter said at OR Tambo International Airport upon the team’s return from Tunisia yesterday morning.
“In the first half, he was not clear in the back of his mind, and we wanted him to be sharper. But at half-time, we told him to make his decisions quicker and get the strikes away even though he misses the target. And I thought in the second half he was very much alive.
“We had to grab him around the neck.”
Yet, having said that it would be unfair to only laud the “little magician” for Bafana’s qualification for the sought-after Afcon tournament, as credit should also go to the rest of the team, especially players such as Darren Keet who was sharp between the sticks for Bafana.
You see, the build-up to the encounter was thick with complications as they would be heading to this match without injured goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune who had only conceded one goal in his last five matches of the qualifiers – an own goal against Nigeria.
But Keet, the Bidvest Wits’ No 1 rose to the occasion, pulling off incredible saves to lead his team to Egypt – while his only flaw was the penalty that gave the Mediterranean Knights their consolation goal.
“The lads went out there and made sure that we carried out the game-plan,” Baxter said after receiving a hero’s welcome at OR Tambo.
“We stopped them from playing. The defenders defended stronger, and I think that every South African should be pleased and proud of it.
“Whether we go to finish first or 10th (in Egypt), that’s something that we will work on in these couple of days.”
Bafana will know their group stage opponents on April 12 in what will now be a 24-team continental showpiece.
However, the South Africans will embark on this tournament hoping to get a decent draw that will help push them up the world rankings. After all, sometimes all it takes is the luck of the draw.