DOWN AND OUT: Tokelo Rantie of South Africa is dejected during their World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. Picture: BackpagePix INSERT: Stuart Baxter

Only a person lacking blood in their veins would not have felt a little sympathy for South Africa coach Stuart Baxter after the shock World Cup loss at home to Cape Verde.
He looked so pale, almost sickly, and depressed in the post-match interview with Robert Marawa of SuperSport at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

Baxter was the proverbial rabbit on the highway, dazzled not by the headlights of a single car but a convoy of trucks.

No one in South Africa expected Bafana Bafana to lose to off-form Cape Verde, either in Praia or in Durban, but they managed to lose both qualifiers.

Amid the inevitable "we can still qualify" chatter, the reality is South Africa are doomed. If any of the team go to Russia next June, it will be as a spectator or a TV analyst.

We in row six of the grandstand fancy Senegal because our belief is that they can win away to Cape Verde in October and at home to South Africa in November.

Depending which Bafana side pitches up, Burkina Faso could win in Johannesburg next month and we fancy the “Stallions” to beat Cape Verde a month later.

A couple of Burkinabe wins would qualify them for the first time and atone for coming so close in the 2014 qualifiers when losing a play-off to Algeria on away goals.

“I am gutted,” admitted Baxter after the Durban debacle. “I am very, very, very disappointed. I am not full of optimism about qualifying.”

Give the Englishman credit for being honest, unlike silver-haired “spin doctor” Gordon Igesund, whose disastrous spell as national coach was marked by one untruth after another.

Deep down, Baxter knows the game is up. Senegal are not going to throw away the chance of a second World Cup appearance having reached the 2002 quarter-finals on debut.

The same applies to Burkina Faso with World Cup qualification sure to put the landlocked west African country on the map.

Then there are the Cape Verdeans, coaches and players proudly wrapped in national flags in Durban talking about the World Cup and Russia.

Garry Rodrigues scored a couple of high-quality goals in Durban, one direct from a free-kick, the other from a shot from well outside the box.

But the nagging question is: How did South Africa lose twice to a team that has slumped from first place in Africa to 30th inside 18 months? Why did Bafana fail twice against a team that lost at home to Morocco, Libya, Burkina Faso and Uganda since March last year?

Forget about tactics, formations et al. It came down to fighting spirit, a desire to succeed, pride in representing your country. Cape Verde had it and South Africa did not.

While Baxter will be an understandable target in the days ahead, where was the inspirational on-field leadership from Thulani Hlatshwayo.

The recently appointed skipper was full of talk before the match, promising this, that and the other.

Much of what he and his teammates said before the match was boringly predictable. There was far too much talk about how they were going to beat Cape Verde twice before playing them once.

The time has come for “Tyson” to lead by example, to scream at underperforming or disinterested teammates. Being captain does not mean being a nice guy, Thulani.