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South Africa vs. Nigeria: Where will the game be won and lost?

Nigeria's top priority when they meet South Africa in this weekend's Africa Cup of Nations qualifier will be securing their ticket to Cameroon next year.

However, the Super Eagles will also be keen to avenge their defeat by Bafana Bafana earlier in the campaign.

When they last met, Bafana opened cagily, were lucky not to concede early when Oghenekaro Etebo's effort whistled just wide, and then went on to counterpunch for two goals against a young and inexperienced Nigeria side.

That loss, following Bafana's inability to beat the Nigerians in half a century of competitive football, has set up what has now become a grudge match for the Super Eagles.

Here are three areas where the game could be won and lost as Nigeria look to restore the established dynamic between these two.


Nigeria's goalkeeping issues were rudely brought to the fore with the injury to first-choice Francis Uzoho.

Even before his injury however, the youngster looked unusually tentative and nervy over two games against Libya, and it is uncertain if he would have been better coming into this game, especially in the light of his last performance for Elche where he let in five.

In his absence, Gernot Rohr will have to decide between Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Daniel Akpeyi, although both have their issues.

Ezenwa has played just one game in five months, and looked far from assured in defeats by Kano Pillars and Raja Casablanca.

Akpeyi was in goal for that defeat in June 2017, and his presence is almost guaranteed to cause panic among Nigeria fans. However, Rohr has shown that fans' opinions matters little, and his players have previously repaid his faith.

Could Akpeyi be the next in line?

Whoever ends up in goal, Bafana must look to test them early while the Eagles defence must work doubly hard to close any holes and avoid exposing their goalie.

By contrast, Bafana have no trouble in this department.

Itumeleng Khune is on the right side of a century of caps, and has been in great form for both club and country. However, he will still need to be at his best though to keep the free-scoring Eagles at bay.


Uyo, where Nigeria play their home games, is 252m above sea level.

Johannesburg, where they will play South Africa, is 1,753m above sea level.

While that is not exactly extreme elevation, it could well play a part in how both teams prepare for the game.

South Africa appear to be banking on the altitude advantage to wear the Nigerians out towards the latter stages, while the visitors will arrive less than 48 hours before kickoff in order to minimise its lung-shearing effects.

Rohr's training will almost certainly involve plenty of conditioning drills, and it may be a measure of how seriously the coach is taking the preparations that only one open training session has been scheduled for the media.

In fairness, the Super Eagles have not only faced and triumphed under these conditions, they have also claimed results at much higher elevation, notably Addis Ababa (2,355m above seal level), and Nairobi (1,795m).

Bafana's quick inter-passing and running game is designed to exploit this advantage, and the Super Eagles will have to slow down the game and pace themselves over 90 minutes.


In three games since the qualifiers resumed, Nigeria have scored 10 goals and conceded just two. Six of those were scored away from home.

That is a frightening tally to contemplate for any opposition, and Bafana will do well to be wary of that firepower.

While Odion Ighalo, who accounts for five of those goals, is missing, Ahmed Musa, Alex Iwobi and Samuel Kalu can still do damage.

Henry Onyekuru has returned to scoring form for Galatasaray, youngster Samuel Chukwueze is finding range at Villarreal, and Kelechi Iheanacho has a good goalscoring record at international level.

The Super Eagles are primed to find the net, but can Bafana do the same?

While Nigeria are looking increasingly prolific, South Africa failed to score against Libya at home or Seychelles away.

Under the same period, they have failed to score against Libya at home or Seychelles on the road, where both creativity and finishing was at fault.

If they want that win against the Super Eagles' stingy backline, they will not only need to create chances, but also take them.

Failing that, they will need midfielders like Hlompho Kekana, and his long-range shooting boots, as well as the tricks of Thulani Serero, to find opportunities.


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