Nigeria and South Africa rekindle their soccer rivalry in Cairo today as both sides seek a semi-final ticket in the ongoing African Nations Cup (AFCON) tournament in Egypt.
In a rivalry that goes a long way back in their football history, both countries are squaring up at the Cairo International Stadium after shocking soccer pundits with their inspiring performances that sent hosts, Pharaohs of Egypt and defending champions, Indomitable Lions of Cameroon out of the championship.
The twosome had met in the Group E qualifying series for this year’s tournament with the South Africans having the upper hand.
Bafana Bafana humbled Gernot Rohr’s men 2-0 inside the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo before settling for a one-all draw in the return summit decided in Johannesburg last November. That result however confirmed Nigeria’s qualification as the group winners with South Africa finishing as runners-up.
The match will be both sides’ third meeting in the continental carnival. Since 2013, the Bafana Bafana have not lost to the Super Eagles in open play and they are also unbeaten in their last five meetings with a win and four draws
The Super Eagles have continued to show improvement and decency in form as the tournament progresses in Egypt. Overcoming their disappointing group stage 0-2 loss to Madagascar, the Nigerians, against all odds, took Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions to the cleaners in a five-goal thriller in their Round of 16 fixture at the Alexandria Stadium.
Their charge for a fourth continental title is boosted by forward Odion Ighalo, who has scored three of the country’s five goals and stands as the joint-top scorer in the tournament alongside Sadio Mane, Adam Ounas and Cedric Bakambu.
Ighalo is expected to lead Nigeria’s frontline in Cairo alongside Ahmed Musa and Moses Simon, whose pace and individual brilliance could be crucial in the encounter.
Statistically, Nigeria have qualified in eight of their nine quarterfinal appearances in the competition and have only lost just one of their matches in the last eight.
For the South Africans, who did the near impossible by sending hosts Egypt packing from the tournament, they showed resilience by fighting their way out of Group D behind Morocco and Ivory Coast to qualify for the knockout stage as one of the best losers.
After scoring just a goal in the group phase against Namibia, Stuart Baxter’s side exceeded expectations by eliminating the Pharaohs of Egypt from the competition, thanks to Thembinkosi Lorch’s lone strike in the 85th minute.
Following his heroics against the Pharaohs last Saturday, Lorch remains a threat to the Super Eagles’ defence, while the pace and skill of Lebo Mothiba and Percy Tau should not be taken for granted.
Ahead of the fixture in Cairo, Baxter says he will not be taking special measures to stop Ighalo at Cairo International Stadium.
“I think there have been some good players who have played against us already – [Wilfried] Zaha, [Mohamed] Salah, [Mahmoud Hassan] Trezeguet the list is long,” Baxter said in his pre-match press conference.
“We don’t make individual plans for players in terms of man marking etc. We would solve that as a team.” – With agency reports