Super Eagles, Bafana Bafana in Crunchy Battle for Final Ticket

Duro Ikhazuagbe

Today’s AFCON 2023 semi final clash between Nigeria and South Africa has generated so much tension  beyond the Ivorian city of Bouake. It is not the first time that both countries will be meeting at this stage of the African football showpiece. But this particular match appears one that the South Africans are looking forward to to make a statement.

When Bafana Bafana won their only title on home soil in 1996, Super Eagles were not at that tournament to defend the title they won two years earlier in Tunisia. Nigeria’s then maximum ruler, Sani Abacha denied, Stephen Keshi and his teammates the opportunity to retain the trophy. It was the fallout of Nelson Mandela’s call for the imposition of sanctions on Nigeria over the execution of environmental rights activist, Ken Saro Wiwa, and eight others in November 1995. Super Eagles were then ‘hot’ and the team of the moment in the continent. The squad was the partly made up of the ‘Golden Generation’ and the emerging new stars. Part of that team went on to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics to win the men’s football tournament  for Africa for the first time. The Jo Bonfrere lads subdued both Argentina and Brazil enroute winning the Olympic football gold for Nigeria.

While the South Africans were celebrating winning the 1996 AFCON, the majority of Nigerian football fans dismissed the feat of the  Bafana Bafana, insisting that they did so because of the absence of the Super Eagles. South Africans felt offended by such insinuations. 

Of course, CAF’s punishment to Nigeria for boycotting the AFCON in South Africa meant the Super Eagles were not going to play at the next edition hosted by Burkina Faso two years later in 1998.

But as joint AFCON hosts with Ghana in year 2000, Super Eagles returned from the self-inflicted ‘exile’ to beat South Africa 2-0 at this same semi final stage.

Tijani Babangida scoring both goals, and four years later, an Eagles’ team wounded by Morocco in their first match descended heavily on the Bafana, beating the latter 4-0 in a group phase match in Monastir, Tunisia.

Four years ago at Egypt 2019, the Super Eagles edged the Bafana Bafana  2-1 in the quarter finals in Cairo, with the goals scored by Samuel Chukwueze and William Troost-Ekong. Both players will be in action in Bouake this evening with Ekong leading the squad on the field while Chukwueze is likely to play some part in the proceedings.

It is against this backdrop that, perhaps, informed why South African Head Coach Hugo Broos, is full of trepidation. The former Belgium international who won the 2017 AFCON edition with Cameroon, has high regards for Eagles. 

“When I saw them against Angola, they looked a good team.

“They have a very good side and some very good players, like the player scoring the goals, Ademola Lookman — he’s a very good player. 

“So we have to analyse a bit more … and we will see how we can use the weaknesses, but also look at the good qualities — and there are a lot of good qualities in that team,” stressed the Bafana gaffer who is obvious aware of another date with Super Eagles in a 2026 World Cup qualifying match in Uyo in June.

“It will also be a bit special (today’s match in Bouake) because in a few months we play them (Nigeria) in  the World Cup qualifiers. So it can be a test for both of us,” he concluded.

If Jose Peseiro is counting on his team with the best defence in this tournament, conceding just one goal so far, Hugo Broos also have a compact team, mostly from Mamelodi Sundowns. Ten players from this team owned by CAF President, Patrice Motsepe, are in South Africa’s 27-man squad. In short, nine of them played in Bafana’s energy sapping quarter final clash with Cape Verde where they booked the ticket for the semi final clash with Nigeria this evening.They equally have in Romwen Williams, a magnificent goalkeeper whose heroics of stopping four penalty kicks by Cape Verde has made him sure bet for the golden glove award of the tournament in Côte d’Ivoire.

Whether Super Eagles’ goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali’s experience with South Africa’s Chippa United will count as advantage will be known at the end of 90 minutes this evening in Bouake.


Nigeria v S’Africa (6pm)

C’ d’Ivoire v DR Congo (9pm)

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