JOHANNESBURG – Nigeria's trajectory after their shock defeat to South Africa in the opening round of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers has been just as obvious as Bafana Bafana’s inconsistency following that historic victory in Uyo last year.
And defender Ramahlwe Mphahlele admits this is a concern, but also sees a silver lining ahead of tomorrow afternoon’s return leg.
“We are the only unbeaten side in the group and we too can qualify for the Afcon if we win,” the right-back said this week.
Much of the focus has been on a strong Super Eagles team that went on to qualify for the World Cup in Russia earlier this year after an unbeaten run that was ended by Algeria long after their spot at the global showpiece had been secured.
In what was described as the "Group of Death", Nigeria toyed with Zambia, Cameroon and the north Africans and were the youngest team to assemble and play at the World Cup.
Their good form continued as, since their "wake-up call" against Bafana, they have managed convincing wins over Seychelles and Libya in Group E of the Afcon qualifiers and have one point more than South Africa, who they need only to draw with at FNB Stadium today to book a place at next year’s continental competition.
“Yes, on paper they are a little bit stronger since that game, and we have lost a couple of players like Dean Furman, Bongani Zungu (injured) and Tokelo Rantie (form),” said Mphahlele. “But whoever has come into the team is able to adapt because we have a style of play under coach Stuart Baxter. It’s a different personnel but the way of playing is still the same, so I am not really worried about who’s not there.”
What about the rise of the Super Eagles?
“They jumped us,” the Bafana defender continued. “But we knew the game plan back then (in Uyo last year). We were playing away from home and we had to sit back a little bit, get the ball and go out on a counter.
"And after that game people had a lot of expectations from us. We went to Cape Verde and things didn’t go well; it was a blow and we lost confidence. It’s true that we have been hurting from the loss against Cape Verde because that’s why we didn’t go to the World Cup. We learnt a lesson from that and we still look at the videos to see how we lost that game. It was a big setback.
"We are the only team to beat Nigeria in the group, and I honestly think we won’t be beaten in these last two games.”
South Africa face Libya in their final group match next March.@superjourno
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