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Onazi Versus Hlatshwayo: A Tale of Interim Captains
Rival captains Ogenyi Onazi of Nigeria and Thulani Hlatshwayo of South Africa have set a fiery tone for their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier this weekend.
The Group E showdown in Uyo offers the South Africans another chance to beat their fierce rivals for the first time in an official match after six losses and three draws since 1992.
“We do not want to forget that South Africa partly contributed to us not going to the 2015 Cup of Nations,” said Onazi, standing in as skipper for unavailable John Mikel Obi.
“This time, we must restore our pride and make sure we get the three points off them on Saturday.
“Nigerians do not forgive losers easily and it is our responsibility to make the country proud whenever we are in action,” added the Turkey-based midfielder.
Hlatshwayo, a centre-back from South African champions Wits, was named captain this week by new England-born coach Stuart Baxter.
“It will be a baptism of fire as captain, but we have come close to beating them in our last two meetings and I think they are there for the taking this time.
“Although Nigeria are a proud and arrogant team, I believe we have now overcome that psychological barrier of not having beaten them in an official match.
“This will be a grudge match. We denied them a place at the 2015 Cup of Nations and they will be out for revenge, which might work to our advantage.”
Apart from being a bogey team for South Africa, an in-form squad, home advantage, longer preparations and several warm-up matches make Nigeria favourites.
But German coach Gernot Rohr cautioned against over-optimism ahead of the first-round fixture in a group completed by unpredictable Libya and outsiders the Seychelles.
“Our team is young and the future looks bright, but there is still considerable work to do,” said the handler who has transformed the “Super Eagles”.
Inheriting a team that failed to qualify for the 2017 Cup of Nations, Rohr plotted World Cup victories over Zambia and Algeria to bring a 2018 finals place in Russia within sight.
Baxter begins a second stint in charge of “Bafana Bafana” (The Boys) in a confident mood despite the loss through injury of midfield enforcer Hlompho Kekana.
“We are capable of hurting Nigeria. We want to be a big nuisance to them — to be their worst nightmare.”