Cape Town – Since 1992, Bafana Bafana have only managed to beat Nigeria once in eight matches. The green shirts of the Super Eagles have been like kryptonite for Bafana, with many South African teams being swept aside in qualifiers and friendly matches alike.
As recently as August, Nigeria showed that the hoodoo is alive and well when the African champions outplayed and beat Bafana 2-0 in Durban. It was a performance that underlined how far behind the giants of Africa Bafana find themselves.
However, heading into Sunday’s African Nations Championship (Chan) Group A decider at Cape Town Stadium (kickoff 7pm), Gordon Igesund’s men are smelling blood.
There is a stench in the air that this Nigerian team competing at Chan are ripe for the picking.
Igesund is certainly not scared, and the coach was bullish yesterday during a press conference at the team’s hotel ahead of the tournament’s most anticipated clash.
“No, we are not scared of Nigeria, we are not scared of anybody, and we can match any team in the tournament. We recently beat (world and European champions) Spain, why must we be scared of Nigeria?” Igesund proclaimed on Thursday.
On the evidence of the West African giants’ first two matches – a 2-1 loss to Mali and an exciting 4-2 victory over Mozambique – you won’t be too far off to think that this is South Africa’s best chance to get one over their rivals in a match that will decide the tournament’s first quarter-finalists.
This is not Nigeria’s best team by any stretch of the imagination, while coach Stephen Keshi said that most of them haven’t even played under floodlights before this tournament.
But they are still Nigeria, a team who has inflicted pain on South Africans on so many occasions, such as in 2008 when the Super Eagles prevented Bafana from qualifying for the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola.
The Super Eagles will qualify for the last eight at the expense of current group leaders Bafana if they beat the hosts on Sunday, and they could end up topping Group A if Mali don’t manage to beat Mozambique.
Igesund, though, believes his squad will have enough quality to cope with the expectation of what is set to be the biggest crowd of the tournament so far, after Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw against Mali was marred by the amount of empty seats at Cape Town Stadium.
“I think (the challenge) will be hugely different, and I think we will be ready for them. We have put ourselves in a situation right now where we are top of the group and we can’t ask for more than that,” Igesund said.
“I’m confident that we will come out tops. I have got a lot of respect for Stephen and he is a good friend of mine. And I also have a lot of respect for Nigerian football. But it’s a game where we have to get the job done, and I’m confident that we are going to do the business on the day.”
Bafana only need a point to qualify for the next round, but Igesund says playing for a draw would be “the most dangerous thing for any team to do”.
“My philosophy has always been play to go out there and try to win the game. When you go out there and play for a draw, you start making the wrong decisions. I won’t compromise my principles.
“If you score three, we must score four. I’m not going to play with five at the back, four in the middle and one upfront. I think we are a good enough team to go out there and do the business,” Igesund added.
This Nigerian side are certainly not the greatest defensive unit at this tournament, having conceded four goals in two matches so far. Goalkeeper and captain Chigozie Agbim has also had a bit of a torrid time in the tournament as he was directly responsible for both Mozambique’s goals on Wednesday.
“We know that Nigeira are going into this game with just one thing in mind and that is to win because a draw is no good for them. They are going to come at us and I will be pleased with that as the match will open up, and I back us up in an open game,” said Igesund.
GROUP A PERMUTATIONS
* If Bafana beat Nigeria and Mali beat Mozambique, Bafana will finish first in the group and progress to the quarter-finals with second-placed Mali.
* If Bafana draw against Nigeria and Mali draw against Mozambique, Bafana will still top the group and progress to the quarter-finals with Mali.
* If Bafana draw and Mali beat Mozambique, Mali will finish on top of the group with Bafana in second spot.
* If Bafana lose to Nigeria and Mali beat Mozambique, Mali and Nigeria will qualify for the quarter-finals in first and second place respectively.
* If Nigeria beat Bafana and Mali draw with Mozambique, Nigeria will qualify for the quarter-finals as group leaders and Mali will finish second.