‘Seye Akanmu-Bode previews the Semi Final clash between the Super Eagles and the Bafana Bafana.
If South Africa had not shocked the the host Egypt in the quarter final and if Nigeria had not lost to minnows Madagascar ( quarter final progress by the Indian Ocean team has shown it to be a good team after all), in the on going Afcon, perhaps the excitement and interest this match is generating wouldn’t have been this exhilarating. This is because statistically, Nigeria towers above South Africa both in head to head and in the Afcon records. 6 wins for Nigeria and 2 for South Africa gives us the edge. In fact, South Africa’s first victory against Nigeria came in 2004 in a friendly, 12 years after their first meeting in a World Cup qualifier in 1992 with the Eagles triumphing 4-0. It took 25 years for South Africa to beat the Super Eagles in a competitive game after a 2-0 victory in Uyo in 2017 in a Afcon 2019 qualifier. For South Africa, this is where gloom ends as results since 2013 favour them over Nigeria. A win and 4 draws meant the Bafana Bafana have not lost to the Eagles. This makes today’s match a ding dong affair.
In the 2019 Afcon, South Africa has not really shown great intents and capability of winning the trophy. Two solitary losses to Ivory Coast and Morocco meant they needed a victory in the last match to qualify, which they did via a lone goal victory against fellow Cosafa neighbour,Namibia. Their Afcon dream became a reality after the shocking 1-0 victory over host Egypt in the quarter final. For the Eagles,perhaps a convincing display ,matched up with a win today will really confirm their status as real title contender. It is many’s beliefs that the team is in a constant flux,blowing hot and cold,no thanks to the uninspiring loss to Madagascar. A major victory was recorded against Cameroon in the quarter final which brought the team back to life. But some soccer loving Nigerians aren’t taking the victory against Cameroon as a true reflection of the team’s capacity, after all, derbies are not necessarily a reflection of the better as many things go into such match,determination, guts and psychological edge.
Looking into the match, Coach Genrhot Rohr of Nigeria in a pre-match press conference tagged the South Africans as the favourite in the match. An assertion debunked by his opposing coach, Stuart Baxter.For him, ” One game doesn’t make us favourites. I don’t think he is fooling anybody”. He however stated his team’s ability to beat Nigeria when he said ” we will be respecting Nigeria but not fearing them. We will have to produce a very good South Africa performance to beat them”.
For South Africa, they have the players to do the damage.While most of them play in the ABSA Premiership, they still have some influential players to give them the edge they need in the match. Percy Tau of Brighton may not have made it in Brighton Hove’s but his work rate for his team his phenomenon.The midfield is expected to be marshalled by Dean Furman and Bongani Zungu of Amiens to link up play with the strikers. The South African attack has not been really firing in this Afcon. A paltry two goals in four games is not a good stats. However, the duo of Lebo Mothiba and of RC Strasbourg and Lorch Thembinkosi,who scored the late minute goal in the Egypt match can link up to wreck the Eagles as they did in the quarter final.
For the Super Eagles,we have the better set up of players to win the game. Nigeria is six times bigger than South Africa ,being valued at £172 million while South Africa is valued at £30m. Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi alone towers above the whole Bafana Bafana squad with a commanding value of £31.4 m. While this doesn’t necessarily translate into victory on match day,it goes a long way in showing the worth of the Nigerian players plying their trades in clubs in Europe. The defensive duo of Troist -Ekong and Emeka Omeruo have the advantages of height which wasn’t there against the Cameroonians to deal with any aerial threats against the South Africans as both their opposing strikers Lorch and Lebo are 5″ 6 and 5″ 6 respectively while the Nigerians are both over 6 feet.Ola Aina has continued to improve in each game ,safe for his failure to track N’jie in the Cameroon match. His constant marauding upfront is a threat to the South Africans. Awazi EM( as the commentator emphatically prounced the EM in the quarter final), is showing resilience in the absence of Shehu Abdullahi. The Midfield duo of Ndidi and Etebo should step up their games today,though they both did tremendous in the quarter final by breaking up the high pressing plan of the Lions.Iwobi put himself in a goal scoring position to get the last goal,he needs more of such positional tactical awareness to get in a goal today. Ahmed Musa had been largely disappointing in this Afcon. His final balls are terrible, making people wondering if this was the same guy at CSKA,Leicester and the Eagles at the last two works cups. Perhaps,it is time up for him as he has reached his twilights. If Rohr decides to play him today, he must lift his game as one of the oldest players in the team. Odion Ighalo is picking his form at the right time. 3 goals in this Afcon makes him a joint top scorer.The fate of the team rests on his shoulders today as goalscoring is concerned. This is not to say that we have no players with goal scoring instincts.
Nigeria have not lost to South Africa in any Afcon meetings. South Africa has made just two semi final outings in 1996( as winners) and 1998 ( as runners up to Egypt), while the Eagles have the most semi final records (14 out 19 ) and in fact ,since 1980 when we won our maiden Afcon,we have made 12 out 13 appearances in the Semifinals,only Ghana stopped us in 2008. And of course we are 3 times winners! These are statistics to show Nigeria as not only the favourite to win this match but a powerhouse in African football. Though the team has its frailties especially in defence, no team is without that. The best team uses its strengths to overcome its weaknesses,so one hopes the team coached by the Franco-German, Rohrwould do just that today. We wish the Super Eagles success tonight at the Cairo International Stadium.