Okon Bassey in Uyo
Remembering three years after how Nigeria missed the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2015) due to the 2-2 draw with South Africa in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Super Eagles interim Captain, Ogenyi Onazi, yesterday vowed that Saturdayâ€™s AFCON 2019 qualifying clash with Bafana Bafana will be approached with caution and all seriousness.
Onaziâ€™s assertion is coming on the heels of Super Eaglesâ€™ Technical Adviser Gernot Rohrâ€™s declaration that the South Africans are the strongest opponents in the AFCON 2019 Group E pairing that also have Libya and Seychelles.
Speaking with sports journalists shortly after their first training session at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo yesterday, Onazi stressed that Super Eagles are ready to redeem their image against the South Africans and ensure that Nigeria qualify for the continental fiesta scheduled to hold in Cameroon in two years time.
His words: â€œOf course, we remember that it was in this stadium that we missed the opportunity to play in AFCON 2015 when we drew 2-2 with South Africa. It is still in our hearts, we have not forgotten it. Though, it is not a grudge match but we are approaching it with all seriousness.
â€œAll we need from Nigerians is their support and prayers because at times like these, it is only their prayers and support that will help us overcome the challenge,â€ stressed the former Lazio of Italy midfielder.
Onazi argued that there was no harm in the current composition of the Super Eagles with the introduction of new players, stressing that both the old and new players have since adjusted as professionals.
Also speaking, Coach Rohr explained that he would give limited play-time to Muslims in the team that include Ahmed Musa and Shehu Abdullahi because of the ongoing Ramadan.
The franco-German gaffer who restated that South Africa is his strongest opponent however observed that the professionalism in the current crop of Super Eagles would see Nigeria overpower South Africa this weekend.
â€œThey are the strongest opponent I will face so far as Eagles coach in the AFCON 2019 qualifier because they have not lost a match over a long time. I am also aware that they stopped Nigeria from getting to the AFCON 2015. This match is very important to Nigeria and so need to win it for our fans,â€ he promised ahead of the clash in Uyo.
Tokelo Rantie scored both goals for south Africa, before left-sided midfielder, Sone Aluko, also replied with a brace in that 2-2 draw that denied Nigeria the chance to qualify for AFCON 2015.
The Super Eagles coach regretted missing the services of some of injured Eagles like John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses. He however consoled himself that the new crop of players in the team have made the necessary adjustment and have shown their readiness to make Nigeria proud.
Yesterday morning, all the players invited to camp with the exception of Elderson Echiejile and Ahmed Musa, trained at the training pitch of the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium under the guidance of Rohr and his assistants.
Rohrâ€™s new crop of youngsters that will take on the Bafana Bafana will include former junior international Kelechi Iheanacho, who has scored in seven of his last eight matches for the Super Eagles, as well as record scorer in the FIFA U17 World Cup, Victor Osimhen.
There are also this seasonâ€™s top scorer in the Austrian Bundesliga, Olanrewaju Kayode, the pacy Moses Simon and the nimble-footed Alex Iwobi of Arsenal.
The last outing between both teams was a friendly match at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit two years ago, which ended 1-1. Ahmed Musa scored a late goal in a game in which Daniel Akpeyi (likely to start in goal for Nigeria on Saturday) saved a penalty, but there was still time for the Bafana Bafana to draw level.
NIGERIA & SOUTH AFRICA
10 Oct 1992: Nigeria 4-0 Sâ€™Africa â€“ Lagos (World Cup Qualifier)
16 Jan 1993: Sâ€™Africa 0-0 Nigeria â€“ Joâ€™burg (World Cup Qualifier)
10 Feb 2000: Nigeria 2-0 Sâ€™Africa â€“ Lagos (AFCON semi final)
31 Jan 2004: Sâ€™Africa 0-4 Nigeria â€“ Monastir (AFCON group stage)
17 Nov 2004: Sâ€™Africa 2-1 Nigeria â€“ Joâ€™burg (Mandela Challenge)
1 June 2008: Nigeria 2-0 Sâ€™Africa â€“ Abuja (World Cup Qualifier)
6 Sep 2008: Sâ€™Africa 0-1 Nigeria â€“ Port Elizabeth (World Cup Qual.)
11 Aug 2013: Sâ€™Africa 0-2 Nigeria â€“ Durban (Mandela Challenge)
19 Jan 2014: Sâ€™Africa 1-3 Nigeria â€“ Cape Town (CHAN group stage)
10 Sept 2014: Sâ€™Africa 0-0 Nigeria â€“ Cape Town (AFCON Qualifier)
19 Nov 2014: Nigeria 2-2 Sâ€™Africa â€“ Uyo (AFCON Qualifier)
29 Mar 2015: Sâ€™Africa 1-1 Nigeria â€“ Nelspruit (Friendly)