Finidi George will hope Nigeria can avenge 2017 Bafana loss

Nigeria coach Finidi George (left) celebrates scoring a goal with teammate Tijani Babangida during his heyday as a player. Photo: Reuters

Nigeria coach Finidi George (left) celebrates scoring a goal with teammate Tijani Babangida during his heyday as a player. Photo: Reuters

Published Jun 7, 2024


Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, 53 years ago, Finidi George is firstly a Super Eagles supporter before he’s the coach of the national team.

So, as his team prepares to host Bafana Bafana in a World Cup qualifier tonight in Uyo, he’ll vividly remember how the South Africans turned the town upside down in 2017.

It was exactly this time of the year seven years ago that Bafana stormed into Uyo full of confidence under new coach Stuart Baxter and got their first competitive win over the Super Eagles.

Bafana beat Nigeria 2-0, courtesy of Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau’s goals, to get their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign off to a flying start.

The two teams would go on to meet in the second round in Johannesburg where they cancelled each other out in a 1-1 draw, with Tau again playing a starring role.

Nigeria had the last laugh in the main event, though, beating Bafana 2-1 in the quarter-finals in Egypt, their last Afcon encounter before they met in the recent continental showpiece in Ivory Coast.

Even there, the Super Eagles got the better of Bafana in the semi-final, winning 4-2 on penalties. The teams were deadlocked at 1-1 after 120 minutes of regulation time and extra time, with Teboho Mokoena having scored a 90th-minute equalising penalty in reply to William Troost-Ekong’s 67th-minute spot-kick.

A lot has happened since February, and the coaching hands have changed in the Super Eagles’ nest, with George taking over the reins from Jose Paseiro.

Sure, it’s safe to say George is no stranger to this role, having been Paseiro’s right-hand man leading up to their runners-up finish at the continental showpiece.

George – the former Ajax Amsterdam and Real Betis winger – has already got a taste of being the main man in charge, leading the team to a 2-1 win over Ghana and 2-1 loss to Mali in two friendlies in March as an interim coach.

But George is set to sit for his first competitive test as the Super Eagles’ coach tonight in Uyo against Bafana, and he must impress, with the withdrawal of striker and African Footballer of Year Victor Osimhen due to injury not affecting their plans.

After all, Ademola Lookman should have no problems taking over the baton, having been the knight in shining armour for his club Atalanta in the Europa League final.

Lookman scored a hat-trick in Dublin to secure the Italian-based outfit their first European title and first piece of silverware in more than six decades.

— 🇳🇬 Super Eagles (@NGSuperEagles) June 3, 2024

A clinical performance from Lookman and his teammates tonight would also see the Super Eagles soar up the standings in Group C, where they now lie third.

Tau is still in the Bafana set-up and ready to make his team roar, given that he’s currently the best player who’s based on the continent and plays for the current kings of Africa, Al Ahly.

On top of wanting to give his tenure a perfect start, George will want to avert a repeat of the heartbreaking loss that the people of Uyo and the entire Nigerian population endured when Bafana were in town seven years ago.