David Notoane. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY
David Notoane. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY

SA tackle Nigeria in their final Group B game at the 2019 Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon)‚ needing just a point to advance to the semifinals and stay on course for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

It is an age-old battle that has seen the two clash at all age-group levels‚ with the Nigerians coming out on top more often than not.

If coach David Notoane’s side lose‚ they will have to rely on Zambia beating Ivory Coast‚ and then goal-difference‚ to book a semifinal spot.

Instead they will want to do the job themselves and having yet to concede in the tournament‚ midfielder Teboho Mokoena is hopeful they can keep Nigeria at bay to get‚ at the very least‚ the point they need.

“Nigeria have a great side‚ we need to focus again and go with the same mentality‚” he said. “We have kept two clean sheets‚ if we keep another one then we know we are into the next round. We know we are safe.”

Mokoena’s stunning free-kick against the Ivorians in their last game‚ a 1-0 win on Tuesday‚ has put SA into pole position in the pool.

He is not the team’s designated free-kick taker‚ but says he has been taking lessons from Barcelona star Lionel Messi and felt he could take on the responsibility‚ which he would not hesitate to do again against the Nigerians.

“It was my first free-kick goal in my career. I am starting to master the technique‚ I have been taking free-kicks [in training] and hitting the target‚” he said.

“I have been watching Messi‚ one of the goals he scored a few weeks back‚ he walks before he takes the free-kick‚ he does not run. I am trying that too‚ because I find that if I run‚ I don’t feel that well balanced‚ but if I walk ... it is the first time I tried that technique and it worked.”

Most of Nigeria’s squad is based abroad, with their star man up front undoubtedly Taiwo Awoniyi‚ who is on the books of Liverpool but has been loaned out for the past five seasons and is now in Germany with Mainz.

He is one of a number of players in the squad that lifted the 2015 Under-20 Afcon.

The top two teams in each pool advance to the semifinals‚ and  the finalists and bronze medal winners will book their place at the Olympic Games in 2020.