AFCON 2019: Nigeria’s Super Eagles battle South Africa for semi-final berth

NIGERIA: Super eagles [PHOTO CREDIT: NFF twitter handle]
Super eagles [PHOTO CREDIT: NFF twitter handle]

Nigeria’s Super Eagles have never ended an Africa Cup of Nations finals without a medal after defeating the defending champions. They are keen to keep that record intact as they go head-on against South Africa in the quarter-final.

Knocking out Cameroon in last weekend’s Round of 16 tie was the sixth time the Super Eagles knocked out a defending champion in the history of the biennial football tournament.

While the victory over the Indomitable Lions has been well celebrated, attention has now shifted to Wednesday’s clash against Bafana Bafana who also did remarkably well knocking out tournament host Egypt in the Round of 16

The anticipated explosive clash between Nigeria and South Africa is billed for the Cairo International Stadium and the match will kick off at 8 p.m. Nigeria time.

Familiar Foes

This quarter-final match is between familiar foes as the Super Eagles and Bafana have played each other 13 times. They were also in the same qualifying pool during the campaign to reach Egypt 2019.

The Eagles finished top of the pile but they were stunned 2-0 by South Africa in Uyo on the first day of the series.

Their second match in Johannesburg ended 1-1, granting Nigeria a ticket to the finals ahead of the last matchday. South Africa also qualified after beating Libya in their final game.

South Africa have never beaten Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations finals, with their two previous meetings – a semi-final clash in 2000 in Lagos and group phase encounter in 2004 in Monastir – ending 2-0 and 4-0 respectively in favour of the Super Eagles.

However, in their last five outings against Bafana Bafana, the Eagles have not been able to get any manner of victory.

What they are saying

South Africa head coach, Stuart Baxter, has urged his team “to respect but not fear Nigeria” in Wednesday’s tie.

“Nigeria are absolutely one of the best teams on the continent and have been for a long time. One game doesn’t make us favourites,” Baxter was quoted as saying by AFP ahead of the game.

“We’ll be respecting Nigeria but not fearing them. We will have to produce a very good South Africa performance to beat them,” he added

The coach has also stated that there will be no special measures to ‘deal’ with Odion Ighalo on Wednesday even though the striker already has three goals in his kitty.

For Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr, the sole aim against South Africa is winning.

He said: “We are here to win. It is not going to be an easy match, but surely if you have to win the Africa Cup, you will not expect to be faced with easy matches at this stage. We know ourselves from the qualifying campaign and it will be a no-holds-barred (encounter) on Wednesday. It is not a matter of revenge; it is about reaching the semi-finals.”

On his part, Super Eagles captain John Obi Mikel, who may return to action against South Africa after missing the Cameroon game to injury said the target of the team is beyond beating Bafana Bafana.

“Let me assure you that we are very committed not only to win against South Africa on Wednesday but to win this championship. We have confidence that we will go all the way,” he said

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Football Federation President, Amaju Pinnick, has enjoined the Super Eagles to, through winning, show gratitude “to President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) as a person, and the Federal Government as an institution, for all the ready support and encouragement over the years”.

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