It is a new height for Soth Africa’s Bafana Bafana as they reach the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 24 years.
“That is where their impressive run will end”, the Super Eagles seem to be saying as they entered the Bouake Stadium for AFCON semi-finals for the 16th time.
The semi-final stage is a familiar terrain for the team as they had even done so 40 years ago on the same Boake turf when they beat Egypt in 1984.
South Africa have played the semi-finals only three previous times in 1996, 1998 and 2000.
With improvement on every match of the competition, the Super Eagles of Nigeria have become not just the highest ranked among the quartet standing, they have conceded the least number of goals.
Goal-scoring is the area of concern as six in five matches brings down their esteem considering the expected potency of their attacking weapons.
Besides, the lessons of history are in their favour. They have figuratively become the bogey team for South Africa. In 14 past encounters, South Africa escaped defeat only six times. In those six duels, four ended drawn. Only Stuart Baxter ever led the Bafana Bafana to defeat the Super Eagles. The first time was in a friendly match in honour of Nelson Mandela in Durban on 17 November 2004.
South Africa won 2-1. Thirteen years later, Baxter again led Bafana Bafana to beat Super Eagles 2-0 in Uyo.
But South Africa have never beaten the Super Eagles in the finals of Africa Cup of Nations. There are three of such instances – 2000, 2004 and 2019.
Wednesday’s game will be the 15th clash between both countries at full international level. Nigeria have won seven of the previous 14 matches, with five of those matches drawn and two won by South Africa.
Apart from having to deal with the incredible energy, effervescence and pace of Africa Player of the Year Victor Osimhen, another major problem that the Bafana Bafana will be up against early, in-game and at the latter stages is the intractability of wing-terrors Ademola Lookman and Moses Simon.
Lookman, with three goals in the tournament so far (all coming in the knockout rounds), plus assisting Osimhen to score the equalizer against Equatorial Guinea, and Simon (with two assists) can be fleeting and entirely unpredictable for any defence, with both switching wings at will.
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