Revenge must be on the mind of Nigerian footballers. In 2013, Nigeria were kings of Africa, winning the African Cup of Nations. In the 2015 and 2017 renditions, Nigeria did not qualify for the tournament and it was South Africa who prevented Nigeria from qualifying for the 2015 African Cup Of Nations.
This Saturday, June 10th, Nigeria has a chance for revenge. They play South Africa for the 2019 African Nation’s Cup qualifiers in Uyo, Nigeria.
A lot has happened since Nigeria’s last appearance in 2013 a reshuffle and a changing of the guard has happened, of the 23 that represented Nigeria in the 2013 Nations Cup, only six got called up.
Stephen Keshi before he passed was left the job (RIP Big Boss), another Nigerian legend on the pitch took the job, enter, Sunday Oliseh, an experiment which was quite frankly, awful; Salisu Yusuf and Gernot Rohr are now in charge.
With Rohr in charge, there’s an influx of young talent, not only from Nigeria but Nigerian’s born overseas, in places like Germany, Netherlands, and England, to name a few. When Rohr took over in Aug 2016, Nigeria was 16th in Africa, 67th in the world and now Nigeria is 4th in Africa and 38th in the world.
The 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifying match against South Africa is the stage needed for Nigeria to reintroduce themselves to the world and an opportunity for Nigeria to show that they are heading in the right direction. It is also great practice for Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup qualifying matches vs Cameroon in the fall.
Nigeria, what to watch for:
Nigeria has revamped their squad since 2013 as aforementioned but their defense still has question marks, particularly both full back positions. Nigeria has a gem in William Troost-Ekong and with Chidozie Awaziem coming into the fold, Nigeria may have found their center back pairing, they will be tested this weekend.
Nigeria has always been embarrassed for riches in attack but the play-making skills of Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa’s form and Kelechi Ihenacho’s goal scoring will also be things to look out for. Iwobi tends to play more central for the country, looking like a different player, Musa blows hot and cold but found the net twice in Nigeria’s last outing and Kelechi Ihenacho keeps scoring for Nigeria.
In addition, the partnership of Ndidi and Onazi in midfield is another battle area. Ndidi has ascended in the past few months, joining Leicester City and showing why he’s so highly rated.
The Group E showdown in Uyo offers the South Africans another chance to play spoilers. South Africa has never beaten Nigeria in official competition, however, they did beat Nigeria in a friendly in 2004.
In response to all of this South African captain, Thulani Hlatshwayo said, “This will be a grudge match. We denied them a place at the 2015 Cup of Nations and they will be out for revenge, which might work to our advantage.”
South Africa are no pushovers. There are players who played against Nigeria when they denied them a birth in the 2015 Nations Cup qualifiers, Tokelo Rantie who scored twice is also in the squad.
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune, Ronwen Williams, Darren Keet.
Defenders: Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Rivaldo Coetzee, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Eric Mathoho, Lorenzo Gordinho, Abbubaker Mobara, Tebogo Langerman, Sifiso Hlanti.
Midfielders: Hlompho Kekana, Keagan Dolly, Andile Jali, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Dean Furman, Themba Zwane, Bongani Zungu, Aubrey Ngoma.
Strikers: Sibusiso Vilakazi, Percy Tau, Lebogang Manyama, Tokelo Rantie, Thamsanqa Gabuza, Kermit Erasmus.
South Africa players to watch.
Itumeleng Khune (Goalkeeper: Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa)
Andile Jali ( Defensive midfielder, KV Oostende, Belgium)
Kermit Erasmus (Midfielder: Lens‚ France)
Bongani Zungu (Midfielder: Vitória S.C, Portgual)
Sibusiso Vilakazi (Attacking midfielder, Mamelodi Sundowns, South Africa)
Tokelo Rantie (Striker: Genclerbirligi, Turkey)
The stage is set for both African giants to begin their journey to the 2019 African Cup Of Nations. For Nigeria it’s revenge and stopping the embarrassment, for South Africa, it’s facing their bogey team and playing the role of spoiler once again.