Again, champions Nigeria have to win or bust

Again, champions Nigeria have to win or bust
South Africa vs Nigeria in Cape Town last year. Both teams will clash again later this month

by Samm Audu

Tuesday Nov 18, 2014. 10:13

After recording a much-needed win in Congo at the weekend, champions Nigeria now have to beat South Africa on Wednesday at home to qualify for next year’s AFCON.

The Super Eagles got the 2-0 win they needed in Pointe-Noire on Saturday to wipe away the head-to-head advantage enjoyed by the Red Devils of Congo, who had won the reverse fixture 3-2 in Calabar in September.

Nigeria are now second in Group A with seven points from five matches and a win of any shade against group winners South Africa inside the brand-new Akwa Ibom International Stadium in Uyo will guarantee them automatic passage to Equatorial Guinea 2015 notwithstanding what result Congo manage in Sudan, also on Wednesday.

They are up against a bullish Bafana Bafana, who under new coach ‘Shakes’ Mashaba are unbeaten in five AFCON qualifiers and booked their flight to Equatorial Guinea with a game to spare.

This will be the 11th meeting between the two countries with Nigeria winning seven of those clashes, while Bafana’s only win was a friendly in November 2004 against a makeshift Eagles.

“This will be a match between two teams who are high on confidence. South Africa have not dropped a point away from home in the qualifiers and we have been boosted by the win in Congo and we will go for the three points so as to qualify for the Nations Cup and defend our title,” said Israel-based defender Juwon Oshaniwa.

“South Africa are yet to beat us in a competitive game and that record will not change on Wednesday.”

“It’s do or die, but we will win,” added striker Aaron Samuel, who has scored in his last two matches for Nigeria.

But South Africa must be encouraged by how they fared against the African champions in a goalless draw in Cape Town in September.

They created the better chances with Andile Jali outshining Chelsea midfielder Mikel Obi in the middle of the park and could have won their first competitive game against the West Africans, but for the fact that they were not clinical in front of goal.

Lively Ajax Amsterdam midfielder Thulani Serero scored his first international goal against Sudan in Durban on Saturday with England-based Tokelo Rantie notching his sixth goal for his country.

But Serero will face a late fitness test after he picked up a hamstring injury, while Orlando Pirates striker Lehlohonolo Majoro appears to have recovered in time from an ankle injury which kept him out against Sudan.

Nigeria too have their concerns with Reading midfielder Hope Akpan out after he dislocated his shoulder in Congo and central defender Godfrey Oboabona suspended after his second booking in the series in Pointe-Noire.

Warri Wolves skipper Azubuike Egwuekwe, who suffered a head injury in Congo, and England-based defender Kenneth Omeruo, who aggravated a groin complaint in training last week, have resumed training and they are now likely to combine in the heart of the back four.

The other central defence option would be for Egwuekwe to partner Efe Ambrose, while Sunshine Stars ace Solomon Kwambe is drafted to right fullback.

Turkey-based midfielder Raheem Lawal, who has been nursing a thigh injury, could also now return for this showdown at ‘The Nest of Champions’.

Coach Stephen Keshi though must be excited with the displays of ‘Made-in-China’ striker Aaron Samuel, who netted his second goal in three appearances for the country at the weekend.

It will be interesting to see if the coach will now start Samuel ahead of Fenerbache star Emmanuel Emenike, who last scored for Nigeria in October 2013.

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