The battle between Super Eagles and Bafana Bafana of South Africa tonight at 8pm Nigerian time for the semi final ticket of the on-going 2019 Africa Cup of Nations at the Cairo International Stadium was least predicted by book-makers.
Against expectations of most fans, Super Eagles bundled out Cup holders and five-time winners Cameroon 3-2 in the Round of 16 in Alexandria on Saturday, while Bafana Bafana also did the unimaginable, shocking host nation and seven-time champions Egypt 1-0 in front of 75,000 fans at the Cairo International Stadium to set up tonight’s clash.
It is this unlikely route to this mouth-watery pairing that makes the game a sort of an anti-climax.
Going down memory lane, figures show that Nigeria has won the African title three times in 1980, 1994 and 2013, while South Africa have only one to show and that was when they hosted in 1996. Eagles were not at that edition to defend the title they won two years earlier in Tunisia due to political intrigues.
The withdrawal led to a CAF suspension that accounted for another absence in 1998, where South Africa reached the final, losing to Egypt.
Both teams were in the same qualifying pool during the campaign to reach Egypt 2019, with the Eagles finishing top of the pile while South Africa – who stunned Nigeria 2-0 in Uyo on the first day of the series – came second. Their second match in Johannesburg ended 1-1, granting Nigeria a ticket to the finals ahead of the final match-day.
The confidence, tactical discipline, savvy and ambition that South Africa showed in their defeat of Egypt was evident for the world to see, but the world also saw the competence, capacity, unyielding spirit and masterliness that the Super Eagles exhibited in ejecting the defending champions from the tournament.
South Africa has never beaten Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations finals, with their two previous meetings – a semi final clash in 2000 in Lagos and group phase encounter in 2004 in Monastir – ending 2-0 and 4-0 respectively in favour of the Super Eagles.
Nigeria has never ended an Africa Cup of Nations final empty-handed where they eliminated the defending champions. Everything point at history repeating itself in Egypt 2019 except Coach Gernot Rohr and this gang of Eagles want to go down on the wrong side of AFCON history in Nigeria.