Orlando Pirates’ Xola Mlambo didn’t make today’s Bafana Bafana squad to face Seychelles, and Stuart Baxter has offered some insight into why he was omitted.
The 27-year-old has played a major role in seeing the Buccaneers climb to the top of the Absa Premiership table early in the 2018/19 campaign, and an injury to Bongani Zungu raised questions as to whether he would be brought into the national team setup.
However, Baxter instead opted to bring in the MTN8 winner, Thabo Nodada, and Ligue 1 midfielder, Lebo Phiri, as central options, with the 23-year-old duo being seen as young options who could plug the gap.
When asked about Mlambo’s exclusion today, Baxter told the media, “I’ve had meetings with the Pirates staff, and I’ve told them that he’s one that has caught my eye. I’m just looking at the balance of the squad, and I’m thinking, at this moment, against these opponents, is he the one? I was thinking about him more against Libya, I have to admit, because of his ability to play in tight spaces.
“But on the other hand, we knew we were going to have to defend on transition against Libya, and at Pirates, he has a role where he’s a last-third/ build-up player, with others track back quicker than he does.
He went on to say, “I think he’s definitely improved, and when I maybe get a younger player that I think is around the same, well then it’s about taking the younger one. And that’s not saying he’s any worse, it’s just saying that for the future it is worth investing in international playing time.
“But he’s certainly one that’s caught my eye, and you know you’ve got to pick a squad that wins, so he’s close, but at the moment I think the balance that we’ve got is okay.”
Bafana face Seychelles home and away on the 13th and 16th of October, and will be eager to come away with six points as they try to book their place at the upcoming African Cup of Nations next year.