Stuart Baxter searches far and wide to bolster Bafana

Stuart Baxter Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

South Africa's quest to reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup has seen national team coach Stuart Baxter undertake an expedition to Europe to try and persuade a number of players with links to the country to throw their lot in with Bafana Bafana.

Baxter has the makings of a good squad at his disposal, but many lack the experience of playing outside of Africa. This may not be such an issue for the qualifiers, but should they reach Russia it would be a huge negative.

After a draw in Burkina Faso and win at home to Senegal - albeit with the help of crooked Ghanaian referee Joseph Odartei Lamptey - South Africa could take a major step towards the finals if they can claim home and away victories over ailing Cape Verde in the next month.

It was something that Baxter managed in his first spell in charge while trying to qualify the side for the 2006 World Cup, and given their recent form, with their full side on the park, it looks very do-able.

Baxter has a strong spine at his disposal, but areas where he would like to see more competition are in both fullback positions and a targetman striker to act as a foil for the pacey Tokelo Rantie.

It was with this in mind that he headed to Europe recently to speak with a number of players about whether they would like to sign up for his project with Bafana. Chiefs among these were Swiss junior fullback Joel Untersee and Greek teenage centre-back Panagiotis Retsos, both born in South Africa, but who left the country at a young age.

Untersee is on the books of Juventus, though he has spent the last five seasons out on loan and looks as though he may leave again this month. He has played junior football for Switzerland at all levels, but at 23 has yet to really get close to the senior national team, one that is flying high and ranked at number five in the world.

Retsos is also a Greek junior international who plays with Olympiakos, but who has drawn interest from top clubs across the continent, including Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

Baxter would not name the two players specifically when talking about his recent trip, but KweséESPN understands they were on his list of appointments when he travelled.

"There are a few players, I don't really want to mention the names‚ they've been bandied around already," Baxter was quoted by TimesLIVE.

"Because as soon as I got there‚ there was a headline in one of the papers that his 'other nation' had made a concerted effort to whip him away from us. So I don't want to warn them even more.

"But there are a few players playing at a very good level who I think could be an asset to South Africa‚ and I think it would be wrong of me not to at least put forward a scenario that interests them.

"In one case the scenario that we put forward was interesting. I think we're just opening the doors. There was another one that we would be lucky if we can get the player to change allegiance because he's developing into a top player and should be transferred to one of the Premier League's top clubs. So he can pick and chose. He doesn't need to be bullied into taking a South African passport.

"I had a good look at both of them. The one we made good progress on but the other one the door's open‚ but ..."

Another player that SAFA have been keen to try and lure for the junior national teams is Crystal Palace defender Nicola Tavares; born in Cape Town, but now a Croatian junior international. They had also managed to persuade Durban-born Sipho Mdlalose, who recently signed a professional contract with Southampton, to link up with the Under-19 national side that was to compete at the Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament before the event was cancelled.

He is another that will be on Baxter's watch-list, though Russia would come too soon as the coach says an important part of his visit to Europe was also to set up eyes on the ground to monitor these players much more closely.

"I also used the trip to get around and check on some of the players playing in Europe‚ set up a few scouting links who will watch them for me‚ and met a few managers to get opinions on those players," Baxter confirmed.