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Bafana Bafana will use high altitude against Nigeria



South Africa's decision to take their African Nations Cup qualifier against Nigeria to Johannesburg and a venue where they have enjoyed excellent success down the years is a boost to their chances of reaching the finals in Cameroon. 


Bafana Bafana will qualify with a game to spare if they replicate their away victory in Uyo last year and defeat the Super Eagles, though with an injury-depleted squad and up against a vastly improved Nigerian side, that looks a tough ask.


Any advantage they can get could be crucial, and so the high altitude of the FNB Stadium and a pitch that will suit their passing game could be just the thing to book their ticket to Cameroon. 


Bafana have never lost to Nigeria in Johannesburg, with the two previous meetings ending in a 0-0 draw at FNB Stadium in 1993 and a 2-1 victory at Ellis Park during coach Stuart Baxter's first spell in charge in 2004. 


In fact, Nigeria's three previous away wins over South Africa have all come at the coast -- Port Elizabeth, Durban and Cape Town.

It is a sizeable advantage for the hosts and part of Baxter's plan will be to move the Super Eagles players across the pitch, tiring them as much as they can going into the final 20 minutes. 


South Africa's game is well suited to doing that, they can play quickly from one side of the pitch to the other and also break fast as they look to add to their four-game unbeaten streak against the Nigerians. 


It has been a tactic that has served Bafana well down the years at FNB Stadium, resulting in only eight defeats in their 40 games at the venue. 


Bearing in mind the calibre of visitors Brazil, Spain and Netherlands -- to name just a few -- it is a solid record. Bafana have also held Germany, Argentina and France in matches at altitude in Johannesburg.

Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt and Cameroon have all offered top-quality African opposition at the venue in the past and also come up short against Bafana.

Their 40 previous matches at FNB Stadium have yielded a healthy 25 wins and seven draws to go with those eight defeats, while they have scored double the number of goals as their opponents -- 60 to 30. 


Again this record should be read in the context that, especially in the early years after re-admission, Bafana would bring top opponents to FNB Stadium and take lesser matches into the provinces. 


That is something that has changed in the last decade with SAFA putting matches out to the highest bid, with Durban especially taking advantage.

Since 2006, the side has played a paltry 11 matches at the national stadium, which to be fair was torn down and rebuilt ahead of the 2010 World Cup so was out of commission for three years. 
They have two defeats in that time, to the recently crowned African champions Zambia in 2012 and a humbling 5-0 loss to a Neymar-inspired Brazil two years later. 


For the rest they have been largely dominant, including their biggest ever victory, the 6-0 win over Seychelles in the Nations Cup qualifiers last month. 
If ever you wanted to see why a good surface like the FNB Stadium is crucial to how Bafana play, it can be shown in their two games against the Indian Ocean islanders.


That crushing victory, which without being disrespectful could easily have been double-figures without the heroics of the Seychelles goalkeeper and some wayward finishing, was followed up by a 0-0 draw in Victoria days later. The artificial pitch on that occasion was close to unplayable and it showed in the result.    


Of course, Nigeria will enjoy the FNB Stadium surface also, but whether they will be able to put in a 90-minute performance at the high altitude is another matter and that is where Bafana can gain the advantage.

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