Bafana Bafana mustn’t read too much into the potential absence of Nigeria’s talisman Victor Osimhen, instead they must be at their best to end a 26-year wait on the continent, said coach Hugo Broos.
Bafana will face arch-rivals Nigeria in the first semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations in Bouake, Ivory Coast, tonight (7pm kick-off). And while the South Africans were initially underdogs for this contest, it seems they could be offered a lifeline given the news that came out of the Super Eagles’ camp early in the week.
“We will fly from Abidjan to Bouake via a 10pm Air Cote D’Ivoire flight,” read a statement from the Nigeria camp yesterday.
“Osimhen will not join us on this trip because of an abdominal discomfort.
“Team medics confirmed that he has been placed under close watch with a member of the medical team staying behind in Abidjan with him. If cleared by (this morning), he will join the rest of the squad before 5pm.”
Speaking at his pre-match media conference in Bouake yesterday, Nigeria’s coach Jose Peseiro gave an update on the striker’s recovery.
He said: “Until now, I cannot answer right because it is about health. This afternoon, I will know better if he can play or not.”
Despite struggling to light up Afcon with goals after helping Napoli win the Serie A title last season, while en route to bagging the CAF Footballer of the Year award, Osimhen remains a key figure for Nigeria.
His work ethic – which has yielded only one goal at the tournament – has made him a nightmare for defenders and goalkeepers. However, should the 25-year-old not pass his late fitness test for tonight’s match, Bafana’s centre backs Mothobi Mvala and Grant Kekana will probably breathe a sigh of relief.
Bafana’s coach, Broos, speaking at his own pre-match press conference in Bouake, urged his troops to guard against complacency, though, as Nigeria have other dangermen.
“It’s not only Osimhen (who is their dangerman),” Broos said in his pre-match media conference.
“Again, I said in the beginning already that we’ll play a good team with good players. They have players who play all over Europe, so it will be tough. But that’s also motivation for us to prove that we are as good as they are and can also win.”
Bafana want to get the better of the Super Eagles for a host of reasons on and off the pitch, including avenging the 2-0 loss in the same stage of the biennial showpiece in 2000.
For South Africans, that result stung, given that it was the last time the team reached the semi-final of the competition, having only got as far as the quarter-final in the subsequent tournaments.
Coincidentally, the last time Bafana reached the Afcon quarter-final in Egypt five years ago, they were knocked out by Nigeria.
Third time’s the charm and it would then mean a great deal for all South Africans as the men’s Bafana would reach the final for the first time in 26 years.
Yes, Broos’s men have already punched above their weight to get to this stage of Afcon given their shortcomings, which include boasting only three foreign-based players from the 23 at their disposal, but they’ll know that history doesn’t remember the losers, only winners.
Hence, they’ll have to beat Nigeria to reach the final, where they could win Afcon for the first time since 1996.