Nigeria and South Africa will resume their rivalry once again as the qualifiers for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations kick-off this weekend across the continent.
The Super Eagles have been a bogey team of sorts for Bafana Bafana, who have never beaten Nigeria at the senior level in a competitive game.
A Tokelo Rantie brace, the last time the two sides met in Uyo-the same venue for Saturday’s game, nearly gave South Africa the first win over Nigeria until Sone Aluko’s brace put paid to that dream.
The carpet will be laid again at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium as the Super Eagles, just like their South African counterparts, look to get back into Africa’s showpiece football event.
Nigeria has missed the last two editions (2015 in Equatorial Guinea and 2017 in Gabon), an aberration that Rohr and his staff will want to correct.
Pitted in group E alongside South Africa, Libya and Seychelles, it looks like an easy run for the Eagles but previous failings will serve as warning bells not to take anything for granted.
Nigeria has no lost a game since Rohr took over and were 3-0 winners over Togo in a recent friendly in Paris while South Africa coach Stuart Baxter will make his bow against Nigeria in his second spell as Bafana coach.
Baxter was in charge the only time South Africa beat Nigeria and will want to repeat that result in the international friendly in 2004.
He has named Thulani Hlatshwayo of Bidvest Wits as his captain and with the likes of Itumuleng Khune, Dean Furman and Sibusiso Vilakazi [below] also in the mix, they look to trouble Nigeria.
Hlatshwayo, who is also known as ‘Tyson’ because of his combative nature, has already stirred the Eagles nest by branding the Nigerians as ‘arrogant’, a move which makes the game on Saturday much dicier.
10 Oct 1992: Nigeria 4 South Africa 0 – Lagos (WCQ)
16 Jan 1993: South Africa 0 Nigeria 0 – Johannesburg (WCQ)
10 Feb 2000: Nigeria 2 South Africa 0 – Lagos (Nigeria 2000 AFCON semifinal)
31 Jan 2004: South Africa 0 Nigeria 4 – Monastir (Tunisia 2004 AFCON group stage)
17 Nov 2004: South Africa 2 Nigeria 1 – Jo’burg (Mandela Challenge)
1 June 2008: Nigeria 2 South Africa 0 – Abuja (WCQ)
6 September 2008: South Africa 0 Nigeria 1 – Port Elizabeth (WQC)
11 August 2013: South Africa 0 Nigeria 2 – Durban (Mandela Challenge)
19 January 2014: South Africa 1 Nigeria 3 – Cape Town (CHAN group stage)
10 September 2014: South Africa 0 Nigeria 0 – Cape Town (AFCON Qualifier)
19 November 2014: Nigeria 2 South Africa 2 – Uyo (AFCON Qualifier)
29 Mar 2015: South Africa 1 Nigeria 1 – Nelspruit (Friendly)
Head to head:
Nigeria- P12, W7, D4, L1
South Africa- P12 W1, D4, L7
Key; P-Played, D-Drew, D-Drew, L-Lost.
Form coming into the game:
Nigeria-W D D W W
South Africa-D W D W D
Nigeria has been hit by a spate of injuries to some regulars. Team captain John Mikel Obi will not play as he recovers from injury.
First choice goalkeeper Carl Ikeme is also out injured and so is the reliable centre-back Leon Balogun.
Chelsea’s Victor Moses has been excused from the squad as he is scheduled for an operation in the summer. Noah Bazee, who was called up but is yet to make his debut will also miss out on account of injury.
Despite their absence, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr feels he has enough from his group to cover for those missing.
South Africa have been sweating over the fitness of star defender Rivaldo Coetzee, even though the player made the trip to Nigeria. Kamohelo Mokotjo of Dutch side Twente Enschede is out injured and has been replaced by Lebogang Phiri of Brondby.
Hlompho Kekana is also another who succumbed to injury and his place has been taken by his teammate at Mamelodi Sundowns, Tiyani Mabunda
What they said:
“It is a big game, and we are one for the big occasion.
“I have confidence in the group that we have now and the ambition oozing in the camp. We want to go to the World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations. Starting well on Saturday will be key to our aspiration,”
Ogenyi Onazi, Nigeria midfielder
“Nigeria are a proud and arrogant team but I still believe we have now overcome that psychological barrier of not having beaten them in a competitive match, yet we could have done so in the past two games.
Thulani ‘Tyson’ Hlatshwayo, South Africa captain
“It is important to win the first game of course, even though we’ll play the game without some of our important players like our captain, John Obi Mikel, who is injured.
Gernot Rohr, Nigeria coach
Kelechi Iheanacho: The Manchester City striker has exploded onto the scene since his heroics at the 2013 Fifa U17 World Cup where he won the top scorer award and the Most Valuable Player award. He is one of the first names on Gernot Rohr’s team-list, and for good reason. His six goals in 10 international matches is a healthy return for one so young and will be looked upon to trouble South Africa.
Wilfred Ndidi: [above] One of the new kids on the block for the Nigerian team who has blossomed over the past twelve months. Ndidi, who plays for English side Leicester City, is a combative midfielder who loves to break down the moves of opponents and set up a play for his team.
He reads the game very well and is clever in intercepting balls as well as packing a powerful shot in his boots, as some goalkeepers in England have found out. He will be key against South Africa.
Percy Tau: The diminutive striker is always a threat to defenders with his direct running and pace, either through the middle or from the wings. The 23-year-old is unstoppable when running with the ball at his feet, as he has shown on numerous occasions with PSL side Mamelodi Sundowns.
Keegan Dolly:Made his mark with the South Africa U23 side and has now made the transition to the senior squad. A move to France with Montpellier didn’t see the striker hug the headlines, but he has two goals in four appearances for Bafana, not a bad return for one who is looked upon as the future of the South African national side.
Goalkeepers: Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United) Ikechukwu Ezenwa (FC IfeanyiUbah); Dele Alampasu (Cesarense FC, Portugal)
Defenders: William Ekong (KAA Gent, Belgium); Uche Agbo (CF Granada, Spain); Abdullahi Shehu (Anorthosis Famagusta, Cyprus); Tyronne Ebuehi (ADO Den Haag, The Netherlands); Elderson Echiejile (Sporting Gijon, Spain); Chidozie Awaziem (FC Porto, Portugal)
Midfielders: Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Oghenekaro Etebo (CD Feirense, Portugal); John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel); Mikel Agu (Vitoria Setubal, Portugal); Alhassan Ibrahim (Akwa United FC)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Leicester City, England); Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City, England); Moses Simon (KAA Gent, Belgium); Olanrewaju Kayode (FC Austria Wien, Austria); Victor Osimhen (Wolfsburg FC, Germany) Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, England)
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs), Darren Keet (Bidvest Wits), Ronwen Williams (SuperSport United)
Defenders: Ramahlwe Mphahlele (Kaizer Chiefs), Rivaldo Coetzee (Ajax Cape Town), Thulani Hlatshwayo (Bidvest Wits), Erick Mathoho (Kaizer Chiefs), Lorenzo Gordinho (Kaizer Chiefs), Abbubaker Mobara (Orlando Pirates), Tebogo Langerman (Mamelodi Sundowns), Sifiso Hlanti (Bidvest Wits)
Midfielders: Tiyani Mabunda (Mamelodi Sundowns), Keagan Dolly (Montpellier, France), Andile Jali (KV Oostende FC, Belgium), Lebogang Phiri (Brondby, Denmark) Dean Furman (SuperSport United), Themba Zwane (Mamelodi Sundowns), Bongani Zungu (Vitoria Guimares, Portugal), Aubrey Ngoma (Cape Town City FC)
Attackers: Sibusiso Vilakazi (Mamelodi Sundowns), Percy Tau (Mamelodi Sundowns), Lebohang Manyama (Cape Town City FC), Tokelo Rantie (Genclerbirligi FC, Turkey), Thamsanqa Gabuza (Orlando Pirates), Kermit Erasmus (Lens, France)