It is Day 20 of the 2019 TOTAL Africa Cup of Nations, and the stage is set for the rest of the world to seat back and enjoy the beauty of the beautiful game made in Africa. With the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Copa America and Gold Cup out of the way, the AFCON is the only international tournament going on now, its Africa’s opportunity to shine.
The quarter-finals of the 32nd edition of the AFCON continues today with three times winners Nigeria taking on 1996 winners South Africa at the Cairo International Stadium at 20:00 CAT.
Nigeria who are in their 18th AFCON appearance have won the trophy three times and lastly did so in 2013 when they lastly took part in the competition. They are favourites to go through against a South African team which shocked many when they eliminated Egypt at the round of 16.
A late goal from 25 year old Orlando Pirates forward Thembinkosi Lorch was enough to shock hosts Egypt and send South Africa into ecstasy as they booked an unlikely ticket to the quarter-finals.
Odion Ighalo’s brace and a goal from Alex Iwobi were enough to see off the defending champions Cameroon in a high scoring an entertaining round of 16 game between the Super Eagles and the Indomitable Lions despite Cameroon’s 2-1 lead at half time.
South Africa’s elimination of Egypt has put them back in the frame as a serious contender for the trophy though they have not really shown much, especially going forward. Nigeria’s coach Gernot Rohr understands the threat that the South African team can pose to his team which has not been too reassuring in the back.
“We saw the Egypt against South Africa game and we know South Africa well because we were in the same group competing for the qualifiers,” Rohr told reporters.
They met in qualification for the tournament, with South Africa claiming a 2-0 win in Uyo before a 1-1 draw in Johannesburg.
“To beat Egypt, in these circumstances, up against a good team with one of the best players in Africa [Mohamed Salah], it will make them full of confidence,” Nigeria’s German coach added.
“They [Bafana Bafana] deserve to win because they were the better team and now for me, if you beat the favourite number one in Egypt, you become the new favourites”.
“I think the strength of team is unity and the fighting spirit – and even against South Africa, which has suddenly become the new favourites of the tournament” .
“We also have confidence after scoring three goals [against Cameroon] against a team who did not concede a goal in the group stage, so we are confident also – but for me South Africa are the favourites,” Rohr said in an attempt to push the pressure on South Africa.
This is going to be the third meeting between these two teams in the AFCON, after the semifinals of the 2000 tournament which Nigeria won 2-0 and a group stage win for the Super Eagles in 2004, 4-0 in Tunisia.
They have played against each other on 11 occasions in all competitions with Nigeria winning six against one for South Africa with the other four ending in draws.
South Africa were an improved side against Egypt, but it is fair to say that they have struggled going forward with Lebo Mothiba and Percy Tau yet to get off the mark.
They have scored just two goals in the competition so far.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria have won eight of their previous games at the quarter-finals of the competition, only losing to Ghana (2-1) in 2008 at this level of the competition.
The South African backline have to be on their toes against Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo who has been involved in four of Nigeria’s last five goals in the AFCON (three goals and one assist).
Nigeria are slight favourites in this game, but the South Africans proved against Egypt that you can never predict what they will bring to the party.
Players to Watch
Odion Jude Ighalo (Nigeria)
Position: Forward Club: Shanghai Greenland Shenhua Age: 30
With three goals to his name in four games so far, Nigeria’s in form striker Odion Ighalo is the man to watch.
The former Watford in the English Premier League striker, who currently plays his club football for Chinese Super League side Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, enjoyed arguably his finest moment in a Super Eagles shirt on Saturday, after his brace and setting up another goal in the 3-2 win over bitter rivals Cameroon to set up a last eight tie with South Africa. He claimed to have turned down a move to Barcelona in January, it will not be surprising if the Spanish giants come knocking again after his AFCON goal scoring exploits.
Percy Tau (South Africa)
Position: Forward: Union Saint-Gilloise Age: 25
South Africa’s ‘Messi’ is yet to get off the mark in this tournament and knows that the South African people were really counting on him to shine for Bafana Bafana in South Africa. With just a goal in their three group stage games, very few pundits could have predicted a win for South Africa against Egypt in the round of 16. Thembinkosi Lorch took the headlines in that game thanks to his late goal, but a win today against Nigeria will cause even a bigger roar and the star of team will like to take the spotlight finally after four less than impressive displays.