Daggers drawn by Super Eagles and BafanaThomas Kwenaite
As Bafana Bafana intensified their preparations for the “All or Nothing” tie at Steyn City on Wednesday, their Saturday opponents also stepped up their training at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba on Wednesday for Saturday’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying battle at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
The entire squad selected by coach Gernot Rohr broke a sweat and everybody raised their hands in an attempt to indicate to the German mentor that they are all ready for the fight against Bafana Bafana, except for France –based forward Samuel Kalu who is only expected to join the squad on Wednesday.
Table –toppers Nigeria actually need just one point from Saturday’s encounter at the 2010 FIFA World Cup final venue to be sure of qualification to Cameroon after missing both the 2015 and 2017 editions after notching up three straight victories.
But it is however not going to be a walk in the park for the West Africans who never expected to lose the first leg match 2-0 in Uyo, where Tokelo Rantie ran them rugged, but the Cape Town City forward is not part of the present team after being left out by coach Stuart Baxter due to lack of game time.
The upcoming battle between two of Africa’s top nations has been dominated by injuries that have ravaged both camps, but it should not be an excuse to anyone who loses this tie as they both have enough quality and talent at their disposal.
The 2019 AFCON qualifiers leading goal scorer Odion Ighalo has withdrawn following a knock in his club side’s final league match in China last week and has been replaced by Henry Onyekuru.
His withdrawal follows closely after that of goalkeeper Francis Ozoho, who kept goals in all three FIFA World Cup group matches in Russia and he has been replaced by Theophilous Afelokhai.
It doesn’t end there for the Super Eagles as they would also be missing suspended Wilfred Ndidi and injured Ogenyi Onazi, John Obi Mikel who is on a sabbatical and Victor Moses who has retired.
However, South Africa has also been hit by injuries to several key players as well, most notably Sibusiso Vilakazi, Dean Furman, Bongani Zungu and Keagan Dolly who set up Percy Tau’s killer goal in the 2-0 victory in Uyo last June and so, both countries enter the cauldron of the FNB Stadium on a wing and a prayer.
Sadly, ticket sales for the match have been very slow and by Tuesday, less than 7000 tickets have been sold for a match that is considered the top of the weekend clashes between two bitter rivals that is designed to have the entire continent enthralled.
The memory of that 2-0 defeat has not gone away, which was why the Eagles have pulled no punches since the 2019 AFCON qualifiers resumed in September, winning all three matches to bounce to the top of the pool and standing at the door of qualification with a match to spare.
Bafana Bafana as well need to avoid defeat to ensure they make a welcome return to a major continental tournament after also missing out in 2017 and nothing short of victory will satisfy their multitudes of forever suffering followers.
The Nigeria delegation to Saturday’s big match will depart the country aboard a chartered flight from the Benin City Airport on Thursday evening. The Eagles are expected to have a feel of the picturesque FNB Stadium on Friday afternoon by 3.30pm.