On Saturday, Nigeria’s Super Eagles will once again go out to prove that the resurgence about the team has not been largely just on paper and a media circus, when they face old foes Bafana Bafana at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in a 2019 Afcon qualifier.
Nothing about this game will be left to chance and the Coaches and Players alike have underlined this fact in the weeks leading to the clash.
Both side missed out on the last edition of the Afcon, but Nigeria had missed the 30th edition in Equatorial Guinea, no thanks to South Africa.
Though the 1996 Africa champions have never defeated Nigeria in a competitive match, they came close to achieving that on November 19, 2014.
Tokelo Rantie’s first half brace had looked like a mountain to surmount. By the end of 90 minutes it was not surmounted, rather it was matched.
However, the damage had been done already, Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2015 Afcon and also missed the chance to defend the title won in the previous edition.
Hence, the task before Gernot Rohr and his young squad is not only to banish that ghost, but also prove to the world that Nigeria is back to being a top team on the continent.
Since his appointment in August 2016, Rohr has laid a marker for the next phase of Nigerian football at the senior level.
His philosophy was and has been about young players with hunger, determination and the right mentality to win.
Six matches after penning the deal with the Nigeria Football Federation, the Super Eagles have not lost a game – 4 wins, 2 draws . They took apart Zambia and Algeria in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and have shown consistency in the style of play.
Today, Nigeria is ranked 5th best on the continent despite missing two Afcon tournaments and boast of one of the continent’s best assemblage of talents.
What this means is the players must now really earn the respect of Africa and get the world’s attention on the pitch by nailing Bafana to the walls of the GAI Stadium.
Historically, South Africa have not been the toughest opponents for Nigeria, but as far as banana peels go, they are they bogey team that lurks.
Rohr has stated; in clear terms, that he is under no pressure ahead of the game. But what’s to say the new faces in his team aren’t?
Only three players from the ill-fated November 19, 2014 match made Saturday’s squad – Onazi Ogenyi, Ahmed Musa and Kenneth Omeruo – and they know several big names were left out while a long line of players are waiting for a chance to audition.
The competition is good, a necessary headache that certainly keeps everybody on their toes.
Nonetheless, South Africa will not lay about for the picking. Stuart Baxter and the 25 players he selected for this mission have a point to prove.
The Coach enters his second spell at the helm; appointed as permanent replacement after the sacking of Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba in December.
He has tasted victory once against Nigeria, but this time there’s very little time to impart his philosophy in this players.
Upon arrival in Lagos, He said :
“Well, if you ask any coach he’d always tell you three or four weeks is not enough. We want more and more.
“I knew the situation when I went in, we knew the situation in terms of our short preparations, but it’s not a perfect world so we just have to get on with it,” Baxter stressed.
“I’ve got good contacts in Europe and I knew the Super Eagles will be going to France, and so I’ve had reports of the games and we’ve looked at some video footage. We prepared as well as we can and I think every coach does that.”
Hence the stage is set, Nigeria and South Africa once again at the same grounds where it happened 934 days ago… Who has the bigger task to prove?