BY EDMOND ODOK – Today’s African Nations Cup (AFCON) quarter-final encounter presents the third time both Nigeria and South Africa will be facing each other on the continental soccer stage
And former International and Super Eagles Skipper, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha is looking forward to an ‘interesting’ pairing when the three-time African champions lock horns with their South African counterparts, also a one-time Champion, inside the resplendent Cairo International Stadium.
Ahead of this epic last 8 clash, both countries have met twice in the continental soccer showpiece in 2000 and 2004. On both occasions, it was the Super Eagles that came out smiling with Okocha playing a major role in the two confrontations.
Recalling with nostalgia how the rivalry between both sides began and the reason Cairo presents a good venue for the tie to be decided, the Nigerian legend said: “It was great because before then, I was personally looking forward to playing against Bafana Bafana.”
“We were having this argument then on who the best African team is,” Okocha told the media.
“We felt Bafana won it in 1996 because we didn’t take part. I think we were on fire then, we were having our best period and that was the year we had won the Olympics in Atlanta.
“But then the opportunity came in 2000, and for us it was personal to make sure that we get one over them.”
“It was a bit easier because we were at home. So, it will be interesting to see both teams playing against each other on a neutral ground”, the former PSG of France mercurial midfielder averred.
Okocha, who also plied his professional trade for Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany and Bolton Wanderers of England, is not bothered by the recent head-to-head results which give the Bafana Bafana the advantage.
According to him, the encounter will be decided by the players’ performances on the pitch. “I think it’s always easier to sit on the outside and act as if you have the best solution. But I’ve played the game at the highest level and I can tell you my opinion,” he volunteered.
The Delta State-born Football Administrator further said: “You can come up with whatever tactics you want as a coach, but if you don’t have the tools to execute you will struggle, and if you don’t have willing players that are ready to commit to the cause then you will still struggle.
“I think it’s all about the players’ mindset on the day and the team that wants it more.”
The Super Eagles of Nigeria are yet to overcome the Bafana Bafana in their last five outings, settling for four draws and a 0-2 loss which came in 2017 during AFCON qualifying tie in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. – With agency reports