AFCON 2019 QUALIFIER
Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja
As Super Eagles players and officials depart Nigeria today for Johannesburg, South Africa, Technical Adviser of the team, Gernot Rohr, is thinking of no other thing but the ticket that will enable the three-time champions return to the big stage of African football after missing two editions back-to-back.
The senior national team has been in camp in Asaba since Monday and is scheduled to depart Benin City airport by chartered flight to South Africa this evening.
“Our mission in Johannesburg is simple: Qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. We are not thinking of anything else. We want the ticket in our pocket before the final match-day,” Rohr said in Asaba on Tuesday evening shortly after the team was promised $25,000 for every goal scored against the South Africa by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.
If Rohr succeeds, it will be the second time he is achieving the feat of ticket to a major tournament with a match to spare.
He did it in Nigeria’s qualification for the World Cup in Russia last summer.
The former Germany defender equaled a 20-year old record when he led the three-time African champions to earn a slot at the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals after a 1-0 defeat of Zambia in Uyo on 10th October 2017 scripted Nigeria’s name on the roster for Russia ahead of final match-day against Algeria.
Frenchman Philippe Troussier led Nigeria to qualify for the 1998 World Cup following defeat of Kenya’s Harambee Stars in Lagos, with the away match to Guinea at hand.
But qualification for the 2002, 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup competitions were achieved on the final day of the respective series.
Rohr savoured accolades from far and near for his accomplishment, and the Franco-German appears to love it and wants more, with the Super Eagles looking good to earn a ticket to the 2019 Africa Cup finals ahead of the final day of the series. Nigeria won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations title but then failed to qualify for the last two championships.
Victory over South Africa in Johannesburg on Saturday will earn Rohr worthwhile space in Nigerian Football’s history, alongside a young, ambitious squad that has grown in confidence after featuring at the World Cup and winning all three competitive games after that, scoring 10 goals and conceding only two.
The Eagles are indignant following South Africa’s audacity in flying to Uyo to earn a 2-0 win on Match-day 1, and apart from the unspoken crave for revenge, the quiet but fierce contention between Nigeria and South Africa in other spheres has lifted Saturday’s match to higher stakes.
Ahmed Musa and teammates, as well as Nigerian ball fans, have not forgotten how the Bafana stopped the Eagles from qualifying for the 2015 AFCON, after a 2-2 draw in Uyo on 19th November 2014 on a day the Eagles needed the slimmest of wins.
The Bafana Bafana have much to worry about. Victories over Seychelles away and Libya home-and-away has catapulted Nigeria to top place in a pool the Bafana led comfortably, and should Nigeria win in Soweto on Saturday, the heat would be on the 1996 champions as they could be torpedoed for second ticket by the ferocious Mediterranean Knights of Libya.
NIGERIA & SOUTH AFRICA AT SENIOR LEVEL
10 Oct 1992: Nigeria 4-0 South Africa – Lagos (World Cup Qualifier)
16 Jan 1993: South Africa 0-0 Nigeria – Jo’burg (World Cup Qualifier
10 Feb 2000: Nigeria 2-0 South Africa – Lagos (AFCON semi final)
31 Jan 2004: South Africa 0-4 Nigeria – Monastir (AFCON group stage)
17 Nov 2004: South Africa 2-1 Nigeria – Jo’burg (Mandela Challenge)
1 June 2008: Nigeria 2-0 South Africa – Abuja (World Cup Qualifier)
6 Sept 2008: South Africa 0-1 Nigeria – Port Elizabeth (World Cup Qual.)
11 Aug 2013: South Africa 0-2 Nigeria – Durban (Mandela Challenge)
19 Aug 2014: South Africa 1-3 Nigeria – Cape Town (CHAN group stage)
10 Sept 2014: South Africa 0-0 Nigeria – Cape Town (AFCON Qualifier)
19 Nov 2014: Nigeria 2-2 South Africa– Uyo (AFCON Qualifier)
29 Mar 2015: South Africa 1-1 Nigeria– Nelspruit (Friendly)
10 June 2017: Nigeria 0-2 South Africa – Uyo (AFCON Qualifier)