Tuesday 9 July 2019

/ by Colin Udoh
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Stuart Baxter and then Gernot Rohr both opened their pre-match press conference in some accord. 
Both men were a few minutes late to the event and were quick to apologise and of course, blame Cairo traffic and the convoluted maze leading to the press centre.
That was as far as it went. Within the opening few questions, each man was at pains to disrobe himself of the toga of “favourite” as they looked ahead to Wednesday’s Africa Cup of Nations semifinal.
Baxter, unlike his usual brash self, seemed keen to not talk up his side or talk down the Nigerians, instead all but pointing to Rohr as playing mind games when asked about the Nigeria coach’s comment from the day before
“Nigeria have been a powerhouse of African football for a long time and one game doesn’t makes us favourites. 
I think he’ll love to have that tag as underdogs and in that way, slip the pressure from you guys but I don’t think he’s fooling anybody to tell you the truth
“We will go into the game as we do with every game. When we hit that balance between good organisation and still play with pace and closing people down with pace and using that natural mobility with technique, we can give anybody on this continent a good game. Therefore we go into every game knowing that we have a chance to win and a chance to lose
“And that is how we will approach this game. We will be respecting Nigeria but not fearing them
And we will absolutely not think that we are the favourites. We will have to produce a very good South African performance if we are to win this game.”
Rohr was having none of that 
“No, we don’t play this (mind) game,” he said. “We are realistic. We believe that we still have to improve. We had very difficult games. We lost against Madagascar, we suffered against Cameroon, made a lot of mistakes so we are realistic. South Africa played so well against Egypt and they have also the advantage that they know already this stadium and they had success here. We arrived yesterday from Alexandria, not so hot like here. All is different here.
“We have only one day to adapt but I think we will be ready.”
And then he threw in the uppercut
“Also they beat the favourites, the number one team. When you beat the favourites, you become the favourites.”
And then they found common ground again, admitting that it would be no walk in the park
“It will be a tough game,” said Rohr. “They did really well against Egypt and they are very fast.”
Baxter was just as complimentary
“Yes we have done very well against Nigeria recently. But we should be under no illusions that Nigeria are one of the best teams on the continent. It will be a massively difficult game for us and we have to get the mental strength right.”
Perhaps the highlight of the day was Baxter bristling when told to put his results over Nigeria in context, as the Super Eagles were weakened by injuries and suspensions on both occasions. And when they were not, his side needed help from the referee chalking off two good goals
“This is not about prestige for me,” he retorted. “It is about South Africa against Nigeria. Both coaches played to win, and the Nigeria coach played the best team he had available. I am sure he wanted to win. And in that game in Johannesburg, I had six players missing.”
Now, that was the real Baxter almost breaking through. The usual tough talking seemingly tempered by a desire not to give Nigeria any more motivation to want to win.
But favourites or underdogs, one team is certainly going home tomorrow.

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