It’s do or die in Bouake…as Eagles, Bafana clash for final spot

Nigeria and South Africa will rekindle rivalry today at the Stade de la Paix in Bouaké as both countries bid to book a place in the semi-finals of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.

Today’s game will be the fourth time that the two countries will be facing each other at the AFCON with Nigeria winning all three previous encounters.

South Africa will be desperate to end their losing streak to Nigeria at the AFCON having lost 2-0 in the semis in 2000, which was followed by another 4-0 defeat in 2004 and suffering elimination after a 2-1 loss at the last eight in 2019, underscoring the one-sided nature of this fixture at the continental showpiece.

With just two games away from potentially winning the 34th edition of the AFCON, Jose Peseiro is close to fulfilling his promise of bringing smiles to the faces of Nigerians by winning the long-coveted trophy after the country last won it in 2013 under the guidance of late Stephen Keshi.

“Of course, our goal is to win the next AFCON, but for that, we need to create the habit to win, it’s the main point,” the Portuguese tactician said in 2022.

Nigeria’s impressive AFCON campaign has put them a step away from the final as they bid to win the tournament for the fourth time, but they must outdo the Bafana Bafana in order to do that.

The Super Eagles secured another victory against Angola without conceding to record their fourth consecutive clean sheet en route to the last four and will hope to continue with their impressive defensive record when they face Hugo Broos’ boys today.

While all eyes were on Victor Osimhen heading to the tournament, Ademola Lookman has been the Eagles’ shining light in Ivory Coast.

The Atalanta man opened his goals account against Cameroon in the round of 16 scoring a brace before netting the only goal of the game in the quarter-finals against Angola, thus becoming the fourth Nigerian to score three or more goals in the knockout rounds of a single edition, joining Odion Ighalo in 2019 (four), Jay-Jay Okocha in 2004 (three) and Rashidi Yekini in 1994 (three).

Lookman’s first-half strike was enough to seal a marginal win to take the three-time African champions into semi-final where they hope to eliminate South Africa for the right to face either Ivory Coast or Congo DR on February 11.

While Peseiro’s men have Lookman to thank for their victory over the Palancas Negras, Bafana Bafana needed Ronwen Williams at his finest to defeat Cape Verde in the quarter-finals.

The goalkeeper was the undoubted hero in the shootout that followed 120 minutes without a goal, saving four penalties to divert attention from his teammates’ failure to convert their kicks from 12 yards.

Broos’ men were hitherto beneficiaries of their goalkeeper denying Gilson Tavares’s attempt in second-half stoppage time, with the outstanding Mamelodi Sundowns shot-stopper forcing an extra 30 minutes in the first place.

The outcome of their goalkeeper’s brilliance means a first semi-final appearance at the Cup of Nations since 2000, with Bafana Bafana making the semis for a third consecutive edition in that finals at the start of the millennium — winners in 1996, runners-up in 1998 and third in 2000.

Like the Eagles, Broos’ boys have not conceded since their tournament opener against Namibia, and the AFCON 2017-winning manager is not expected to change the backline that has kept opponents out in four consecutive games.

The tournament has been dubbed as the rise of the underdogs and the Eagles will have to be wary of the Bafana if they want to stand a chance of making it to the final.

Speaking ahead of today’s game Peseiro said, “We’re doing a good job. With good organisation and good commitment, we play like a team together.

“It will be a tough match against a good national team.

“We want to beat South Africa to reach the final. For that, we have to play a high-level match against a South African team that eliminated Morocco, who did a fantastic World Cup.

“We must play 100% or more to beat a very good team.”

He added, “I believe that we can win this competition.

“But they also want to win AFCON, just like us.”

SOURCE:PUNCH

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