Two footballing nations that love to hate each other; South Africa and Nigeria come toe-to-toe once again at the First National Bank (FNB) Stadium in Johannesburg on a sunny Saturday afternoon with qualification for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations the utmost prize on offer.
The rivalry between South Africa and Nigeria already goes beyond two decades and although Nigerians will want to believe there is a non-existing rivalry owing to their upper hand in fixtures against the Bafana Bafana, the fact that the Super Eagles have not won in any of the last four meetings show that the tide is gradually moving.
Saturday’s game is a top-of-the-table clash in Group E and that is full credit to Gernot Rohr’s Nigerian team who have spectacular rebounded after an opening match day loss against Stuart Baxter’s Boys in Uyo. By the start of August, Nigeria were third in the group but three consecutive wins have seen them climb to top spot and within one point of qualification.
Given that Nigeria have a final game at home against minnows Seychelles early next year, qualification seem all but guaranteed but the Eagles have two scores to settle with their hosts on Saturday; a revenge on the ignominious loss in Uyo in June 2017 and a real stake at the bragging rights.
Date: 17th November, 2018
Venue: First National Bank (FNB) Stadium, Johannesburg
Time: 3PM CAT (2pm Nigerian time)
Centre Referee: Papa Bakary Gassama (The Gambia)
Assistant Referees: Soulayman Sosseh (Assistant Referee 1), Omar Darboe (Assistant Referee 2).
Both teams will go into Saturday’s fixture with several of their key players. South Africa coach, Baxter could be said to be worse hit with injuries as plenty of his first team regulars were unavailable for selection.
Dean Furman, Bradley Grobler, Bongani Zungu, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Keagan Dolly are unavailable for the Bafana but Nigeria also have worries of their own. Goalkeeper Francis Uzoho and striker Odion Ighalo are injured while Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi is suspended.
In the absence of Kamohelo Mokotjo and Furman‚ the two players who paired in midfield for Bafana in their last two qualifiers against Seychelles last month‚ Baxter is likely to fill that area with the Mamelodi Sundowns duet of Hlompho Kekana and Tiyani Mabunda. The returning Thulani Serero is also set to be given the playmaker role.
In the absence of Uzoho, Rohr is likely to turn to South Africa based goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi or Ikechukwu Ezenwa while Ndidi’s place will be fought for by John Ogu and the recalled Mikel Agu.
WHAT THEY SAY:
Stuart Baxter (South Africa coach):
“I don’t fear Nigeria because I think we have the equipment to make it a very difficult day for them. Will that lead us to victory? I hope we can guarantee that.
“But what we can guarantee is that we’ll do everything in our power.”
Goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune:
“I’ve told them (his teammates) that we just need to believe in ourselves as individuals and as a collective, anything is possible.
“We went there to Nigeria and nobody gave us a chance, no one thought that we could outplay them. No one thought we could get maximum points away from home but we managed to show our class and show that we are more than capable of going to any country and get positive results.
“So, we just have to welcome them at the FNB with respect but show them we don’t fear them and play a good brand of football in front of our home supporters and get maximum points.”
Ahmed Musa (Nigeria captain):
“Football is all about ninety minutes so we’re going to see at the end of it. We know the importance of the game against South Africa and we’ve got to win to qualify. We know it’s going to be a very tough game so we have to wait to see who carries the day.
“That they beat us in Uyo is past tense for now and I think we have to focus on the future. For me, South Africa are a very good team and always play very good whenever they play against Nigeria so it won’t be an easy game for us and they know it won’t be an easy game for them too.”
Itumeleng Khune; Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Buhle Mkhwanazi, Sfiso Hlanti; Vincent Pule, Hlompho Kekana, Thembinkosi Lorch; Thulani Serero; Percy Tau, Lebo Mothiba.
Akpeyi; Aina, Balogun, Troost-Ekong, Jamilu; Ogu, Etebo; Iwobi, Iheanacho, Kalu; Musa