Nigeria improving, says Broos, as Bafana gun for first Afcon final in 26 years
The West Africans are not short of big-name stars playing in European leagues
With Nigeria against Bafana Bafana it is always a bit of a grudge thing.
The Super Eagles, SA’s nemesis who they clash with in Wednesday’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) semifinal at Stade Stade de la Paix in Bouaké, Ivory Coast, have nothing to prove in terms of their record against Bafana.
At national team level, Nigerian football has long eclipsed their rivals to the south. The West Africans possessed perhaps the finest line-up Africa has seen in the 1990s — Jay-Jay Okocha, Finidi George, Sunday Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi and Nwankwu Kanu were just some of the global superstars in that team’s ranks.
Even after that side, which won the 1994 Nations Cup and lit up the 1994 World Cup in the US and 1996 Olympics, Nigeria continued to amass achievements. They reached the last 16 of the 1998 and 2014 World Cups (though they were not in Qatar in 2022) and won the 2013 Nations Cup in SA.
But the Super Eagles do seem to have something to prove every time they take the field against Bafana. That stems from their absence when the Nigerian government of Gen Sani Abacha withdrew their national team from the 1996 Nations Cup over SA’s criticism of the execution of human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Bafana won on home soil but Nigeria has always maintained its super 1990s combination would have defended their trophy. They go out to prove it every time they take the field against Bafana, with great success.
Nigeria also don’t necessarily have to prove anything. For the 28 years since 1996 they have simply kept producing strong teams while SA football waned alarmingly.
But 1996 will probably be at the back of many Nigerians’ minds on Wednesday, though so might an awareness that their awesome record against Bafana has been less convincing in the past decade.
Nigeria have won seven, drawn five and lost two of 14 clashes against SA. They have only lost once to Bafana in a competitive game — Stuart Baxter’s side won their Nations Cup qualifier 2-0 in Uyo in 2017. Two members of Hugo Broos’ present squad starred that day: Percy Tau scored and Themba Zwane was influential.
The Super Eagles gained revenge at the 2019 Nations Cup finals with a 2-1 quarterfinal victory.
In the last six clashes both sides have a win and there have been four draws.
In Ivory Coast, Nigeria have grown in strength. A team rocked by a disastrous start to the World Cup qualifiers with draws against Lesotho and Zimbabwe in November, which saw Portuguese coach José Peseiro enter Afcon under considerable pressure, opened with a 1-1 draw against Guinea. They won their next four games.
Broos, seeking to steer Bafana to a first Nations Cup final in 26 years — since 1998 in Burkina Faso, where they lost 2-0 to Egypt — has taken note of how Nigeria have gathered steam. SA’s coach has also noticed the three goals in two knockout games by forward Ademola Lookman of Atalanta in Serie A.
“They are getting better with each game,” Broos said. “When I saw them [on Friday against Angola] they looked a good team.
“They have a very good side and some very good players, like the player scoring the goals, Lookman.
“It will also be a bit special because in a few months we play them in the World Cup qualifiers, so it can be a test for both of us.”
Peseiro might look for more goals than the lone tournament strike from his star player, Napoli’s classy Victor Osimhen, who has plenty of destructive potential.
PAOK Thessaloniki centre-back William Troost-Ekong, the Fulham pair of defender Calvin Bassey and midfielder Alex Iwobi, Nottingham Forest wing-back Ola Aina and Nantes forward Moses Simon are among Nigeria’s other big-name European-based stars.
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