After qualifying together to the 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations from the same group, time has come for Nigeria and South Africa to rekindle their rivalry once again when they face each other on Wednesday (10 July 2019) at the Cairo International Stadium, with a place in the final four at stake.
Both sides were drawn in the same qualifying group, with South Africa shocking their hosts Nigeria at home 2-0. They had a 1-1 draw in Johannesburg on their way to the finals together.
Four years before, then title holders Nigeria missed the chance of defending their title when they were eliminated from the qualifiers group that also had South Africa as their rivals. Two draws (0-0 and 2-2) saw Bafana Bafana topping the group, and heading to Equatorial Guinea final tournament with Congo; Nigeria finished third.
But the finals themselves look deviant to the Super Eagles, who emerged victorious in the previous two encounters that gathered both teams in AFCON history. At home in 2000, Co-hosts Nigeria reached the final defeating South Africa 2-0 in Lagos, before finishing as runner-ups to eventual champions Cameroon. Four years later in Monastir, Tunisia the Super Eagles had an astounding 4-0 over South Africa in the group stage.
Head to Head AFCON history
10.02.2000 Lagos (Semifinal) Nigeria 2-0 South Africa
31.01.2004 Monastir (Group stage) Nigeria 4-0 South Africa
But this year when they lock horns in the 2019 Total AFCON quarterfinals, it might be a story of confirming Nigerian supremacy in the finals, or of South African revival.
Defeating hosts Egypt 1-0 in the Round of 16 gave the Bafana Bafana huge confidence after achieving one of AFCON all time shocks. "Beating Egypt, the host nation and among that crowd was massive, but we worked and we did it. We can do the same again against Nigeria", South Africa's coach Stuart Baxter said, looking elated with his side's unexpected feat.
After two defeats and a lone goal scored in the group stage, they went to face the hosts Egypt with the underdogs tag threatening of seeing them out very soon. But Thembikosi Lorch scored four minutes from time to handle Bafana Bafana a place in the quarterfinals with millions of home side fans still shocked till today.
On the other side, Nigeria were dealt with another shock as their group convened in Alexandria, losing and handling top spot to debutants Madagascar. They trailed 2-1 to Cameroon at halftime of the Round of 16 match, but resurrected after the break to qualify, beating the defending champions 3-2 in one of the tournament's best games to date.
"When you the beat the favorites, you are favorites yourself. We also had a good game against Cameroon and I expect a good match", Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr said, commending his quarterfinal rivals who have the advantage having played in Cairo compared to his Alexandria base, as he noted.
The quarterfinal showdown kicks off at 21:00 local time (19:00 GMT), with the winner setting a date against either Algeria or Cote d'Ivoire in the semifinal.
What they said
Gernot Rohr (Coach, Nigeria)
When you beat a good team of Egypt in these circumstances you will be full of confidence. When you the beat the favorites, you are favorites yourself. We also had a good game against Cameroon and I expect a good match. The strength of our team is the fighting spirit. We are confident despite it is not going to be easy and for me they are the favorites. I don't play mind games but I'm realistic. South Africa had a good game against Egypt, they played here and know the city and stadium, but I think we will be ready. We have mental strength that we have shown against Cameroon, and my team is more mature now. We are highly motivated and we need to find a good strategy. It is a match between two organized teams that know each other well.
Odion Ighalo (Forward, Nigeria)
We have to do our job because this is going to be a tough game. I'm satisfied I give my best and I don't look at the criticism. I'm thinking of the team, if I don't score and we still won I am satisfied. Against Cameroon it was a difficult game and tomorrow it is going to be another tough one. We are ready and we are going to show it tomorrow. This match is totally different from those in the qualifiers. We know this is going to be a difficult game against South Africa, a very fast team but we will make sure to make Nigerians proud.
Stuart Baxter (Coach, South Africa)
We have to remain very humble. We won't be overconfident going to the game against Nigeria; one of the powerhouses in the continent. We played well against them before but we should know this is a totally different match. We are looking forward to this game, and hopefully we will be mentally and physically ready. Beating Egypt, the host nation and among that crowd was massive, but we worked and we did it. We can do the same again against Nigeria. One game doesn't make us the favorites, but we go to every game with a chance to win. We are respecting Nigeria but we are not fearing them.
Ronwen Williams (Goalkeeper, South Africa)
Our performance at first wasn't satisfying and we knew we could play better. We worked hard every day and we needed our people support. In football you never know what will happen tomorrow. The positive criticism we had pushed us to move forward and here we are. We worked very hard and we know we could be better. As you saw in the last game (against Egypt) we were much better. So far, so good.