“He’s such a quality player and at some point during the game he was able to get the ball between me and Dean (Furman), but fortunately our defence was pressing high enough to make sure the ball didn’t get to their strikers,” Zungu said after the 2-0 win at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, a first ever for South Africa over their counterparts in a qualifying match.
Baxter opted for Zungu and Furman in the heart of midfield, having toyed with the idea of adding a third central defensive player just to tighten up that area, where Onazi and Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi were expected to be deadly.
But they hardly got going as Bafana held their own and got second-half goals from strikers Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau, the latter scoring seconds after coming on.
“I think they dominated the game in the first 20 minutes. We knew we were up against it,” said Zungu.
“We had to keep a cool head. I remember shouting instructions to Dean and the rest of the players that we should not lose our heads. I said it’s tough because we are playing away, but it is normal that they will dominate earlier because of their quality, but we just had to remain calm. I was just happy they didn’t score in the first half.”
Nigeria never looked like scoring, and when they pressed for an equaliser, Tau ended the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier as a contest with nine minutes to go.
Zungu said the longer the game dragged on without the hosts breaking the deadlock, Bafana found their rhythm and would suddenly rise from their underdog tag. The Portugal-based midfielder was particularly impressive, especially considering this was his first appearance for the national team since November 2015.
“The coach emphasised us keeping our discipline and being slaves on the pitch,” he said. “It was evident on match day. They were playing at home and we were slaves, running around and chasing. It’s normal, they are Nigeria. Credit should also go to our defence. It doesn’t matter how you play these sort of games.
"My experience in Portugal (for Vitória de Guimarães) is that away games are extremely tough and how you defend is important because the longer the game goes on, the better for an away team.
"I just knew the game was going to open up and I am happy we scored. Mistakes happened, but everyone was solid. Our wingers (Keagan Dolly and Themba Zwane) were also helping a lot because they were squeezing in. Onazi couldn’t find the passes in between.”
Onazi and Ndidi were almost played off the park by Zungu and Furman.
“We studied them,” Zungu said. “The only thing we had to do was stop him from playing the balls in between us. I think he found one or two and we were really not happy. But for the rest of the game we closed them down.”