On Thursday, the Super Eagles will face the Bafana Bafana of South Africa for a semifinal ticket in the ongoing African Cup of Nations.
Speaking on radio, sports journalist Deji Omotoyinbo said Nigeria and South Africa may not be referred to as rivals – he would be right to have added, not yet.
What it has become and what we can call it could be competitive jousts, because of the number of times they have met in the short time Bafana Bafanawere re-admitted into the comity of football-playing nations in 1992.
In 13 confrontations since 1992, the Super Eagles have won six but Nigeria’s last victory over the South Africans was five years ago – August 2013. Since that time, the South Africans have become stronger.
They have a victory over the Eagles in Uyo in 2017 to show how far they have improved.
Beating Egypt last Saturday just confirmed their confidence level – because they deserved their victory. They will be confident going into Wednesday’s encounter with Nigeria knowing they have a great chance of making the semi-final.
Current Form: Nigeria [W-L-W-W-L]; South Africa [W-L-W-L-D]
Head to head
17/11/18 ACO South Africa 1 – 1 Nigeria
10/06/17 ACO Nigeria 0 – 2 South Africa
29/03/15 FRI South Africa 1 – 1 Nigeria
Prediction: Nigeria 3-1 South Africa
The Stuart Baxter-coached side has only scored twice in Egypt but another goal and a clean sheet against Nigeria on Wednesday will see them advance.
For the Nigerians, they have already eaten the humble pie, fed to them by Madagascar and know the danger that looms if they enter the pitch with any chip on their shoulder, or any superiority complex when they take to the Cairo pitch on Wednesday.
Five duels to watch
Oghenekaro Etebo v Bongani Zungu
Etebo has been a standout performer for the Super Eagles with his energy and metronome-like coordination in the midfield and on Wednesday he will be in direct confrontation with the elegant Zungu, who dictates the pace for Bafana.
Odion Ighalo v Thulani Hlatshwayo
Ighalo has shown his predatory nature in Egypt and has added more leadership nous. Against Hlatshwayo, he will confront South Africa’s leader and fighter.
The Bafana captain will give no quarter and will use all physical avenues to prevent Ighalo from getting goals. This will be a physical battle.
Chidozie Awaziem v Thembinkosi Lorch
Awaziem has performed creditably well – both defensively and offensively even though he is playing out of position. Blessed with adequate speed, he will have to track the elusive Lorch from his right-back position.
Samuel Chukwueze v Sfiso Hlanti
If Gernot Rohr wants to go fire-for-fire then silky dribbler, Chukwueze will be the man to unlock the Bafana defence. Hlanti will have watched enough videos of the youngster’s penchant for cutting inside the pitch and will try to shoo him unto his weaker right foot.
This looks like the duel that will determine the match.
Alex Iwobi v Dean Furman
Furman is the muscle in the Bafana team and will cover every blade of grass to push his side past Nigeria – a team he has said he is “excited” to face while Iwobi will need more concentration to get away from the clutches of his marker.
What they are saying
“They are a top side, they have got many great players. We look forward to it, it is going to be a good encounter, we know them very well, and they know us very well. We are excited to play Nigeria now”. – Dean Furman, South Africa Midfielder
“The strengths of our team are humility and fighting spirit, and even against South Africa, it won’t be easy. But we also have confidence because we scored three goals against a team who did not concede a goal in the group stage and who had a very good goalkeeper.” – Gernot Rohr, Nigeria Manager
Probable Starting XI
Nigeria [4-1-4-1]: Daniel Akpeyi; Chidozie Awaziem, William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, Ola Aina; Wilfred Ndidi; Oghenekaro Etebo, Samuel Chukwueze, Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa; Odion Ighalo
South Africa [4-3-3]: Ronwen Williams; Sfiso Hlanti, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Buhle Mkhwanaz, Thamsanqa Mkhize; Dean Furman, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Bongani Zungu; Thembinkosi Lorch, Percy Tau, Lebo Mothiba