Nigerians know that there is a huge game looming for the Super Eagles on the 17th of this month. Our birds travel down to visit Bafana-Bafana in Johannesburg on Match day 5 of the 2019 African Cup qualification play-offs.
As we know, Group E was thrown into virtual disarray when the South Africans pulled the rug out from under their Nigerian hosts on Matchday 1 in Uyo. Behind two unanswered goals by Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau it was made annoyingly worse that the South Africans were truly the better team. It was arguably the worst thing that could have happened to coach Rohr’s squad. They had now dropped all points against their main rival in the group – and at home. To muddy up the waters, even more, they were now a minus-two in terms of goal difference.
It certainly looked gloomy and the million Naira question was “how would they respond?” Well, this is why we play the actual matches so that the rubber really meets the road. The ‘9aija’ reaction was one of concentrated grit and determination and yes, while sometimes the execution was still wobbly, their effort spoke volumes. Nigeria won all of her next three games earning the maximum nine points while outscoring their opponents by ten goals to two. Nobody could stop Odion Ighalo.
Meanwhile, in the Bafana-Bafana camp things were not going as well, and far from their initial plan. After a lacklustre 0:0 draw with Libya in Durban on Match day 2, the seemed to have found their groove back when they then mauled the Seychelles 6:0 in the next game on Match day 3. But that was seemingly nothing but a flash in the pan because a mere three days later on Match day 4, they could only muster a goalless draw against the same bunch of semi professionals in Victoria. They obviously took the East Africans for granted unlike Nigeria, and as Rohr said,: “they went swimming, but we came to play football.”
This all brings us to where we are at now.
As pointed out, Nigeria next plays away to the RSA and then hosts Seychelles in their final game on Matchday 6. While that last game should be a mere formality for the Super Eagles, things won’t be that easy for the RSA.
Despite hosting Nigeria and making the FNB stadium as inhospitable as possible by even dropping ticket prices, the home team will be under insurmountable pressure.
We say this because, after that clash of the Titans, they have a very tricky game against Libya – wherever away is. Since the game is in March of 2019, the Mediterranean Knights would have had enough time to recover from coach Adel Amrouche’s abrupt resignation and will be better forged. With still a chance to tippy-toe past the RSA and claim the second slot in the group, they most assuredly will play with their ears pinned back.
In the meantime coach,Gernot Rohr has already named his initial invitees for the foray:
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Elche FC, Spain); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba FC); Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United, South Africa)
Defenders: Ola Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Adeleye Aniyikaye (FC Ifeanyi Ubah); Semi Ajayi (Rotherham United, England); Bryan Idowu (Lokomotiv Moscow, Russia); William Troost-Ekong (Udinese FC, Italy); Leon Balogun (Brighton & Hove Albion, England); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Jamilu Collins (SC Paderborn 07, Germany)
Midfielders: Oghenekaro Etebo (Stoke City FC, England); John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel); Mikel Agu (Vitoria Setubal FC, Portugal)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Al Nasr FC, Saudi Arabia); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Moses Simon (Levante FC, Spain); Victor Osimhen (Royal Charleroi SC, Belgium); Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai, China); Alex Iwobi (Arsenal FC, England); Samuel Kalu (Bordeaux FC, France); Isaac Success (Watford FC, England); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain) Standby: Henry Onyekuru (Galatasaray SK, Turkey); Chidozie Awaziem (FC Porto, Portugal); Nyima Nwagua (Kano Pillars FC); Sunday Adetunji (Enyimba FC); Junior Lokosa (Kano Pillars FC)
Victor Osimhen, who has been recalled to the team for the first time since June 2017, will be joined by greenhorns Samuel Chuwkueze of Villarreal, along with FC Ifeanyi Ubah defender Adeleye Olamilekan. As expected Wilfred Ndidi will be missing because of his two yellow cards in the last games. So is Captain Mikel Obi – despite being in playing form in China. This only begs the question if it is just a matter of time before he joins Victor Moses in early retirement.
Despite needing only a draw technically, Nigeria must not take this game for granted and seemingly Rohr is not. I mean if he knows what the South Africans do in far away Seychelles, then he certainly knows what they are doing on the practice field. The ex Bayern player has publicly already identified the Belgian- based Percy Tau as the one player that the Eagles must coral in order to succeed. In addition to this, the German must get his tactics right especially in the first half, so as not to fall behind. He must keep things as easy as possible for his young Eagles.
For extra motivation, we are also hoping that he remembers how the Bafana coach, Stuart Baxter, dismissed his team after that initial defeat at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, by calling them clueless and playing without purpose. Later he would continue his disrespect by saying that his current team was way better than the ‘overrated’ Super Eagles squad that made the World Cup in Russia.
Come November the 17th, we shall know if this is true or not.
By Nze Iwedi Ojinmah.