Nigeria sigh with relief at Rantie absenceThomas Kwenaite
The spotlight returns to the Cameroon 2019 African Nations Cup qualifiers this week with South Africa’s penultimate match against perennial nemesis Nigeria in Group E at the FNB Stadium on Saturday as the pick of the weekend fixtures.
Granted, the Group B encounter between Morocco against hosts Cameroon at the Mohammed V Stadium in Casablanca is also a huge fixture as well as the epic Group G tie between Congo and DR Congo in Brazzaville on Sunday, but the entire continent would be watching the clash at FNB Stadium.
Nigeria sighed with relief on hearing that their tormentor-in-chief (Tokelo Rantie) had not been selected due to his lack of game time after cancelling his contract with Genclerbirligi in Turkey and briefly went into farming.
Rantie it is who terrorized the Nigeria defence and assisted South Africa with a brace as they raced into a 2-0 lead in Uyo, but a red card to Reneilwe Letsholonyane resulted in the Super Eagles staging a magnificent fightback to level the match 2-2.
But last year, Rantie opened the score once more at the same venue, ran the defence rugged and when Percy Tau added the second, it was game, set and match as Nigeria lost an official match to Bafana Bafana for the first time in their history.
Rantie is not easily shaken off the ball and although stockily build and is the kind of player that remains constantly in your face throughout the duration of the match and one slip, one single second of loss in concentration and Rantie will pounce and punish you, the Nigerians knows his deadliness very well.
He goes at the defence like a battering ram and when the strategy does not yield results, uses lightning speed to stretch them out and test their endurance. On the two occasions that he scored three goals against the Super Eagles, he really found them wanting.
Several other players who were instrumental in that famous victory have also not been selected, largely due to injuries like Dean Furman, Bongani Zungu, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Keagan Dolly and the latest casualty has been Kamohelo Mokotjo.
But Bafana Bafana have not been the only ones suffering from mass withdrawals as Nigeria have also been hit by injuries that has forced first choice goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, Ogenyi Onazi, Wilfred Ndidi, Mikel John Obi and the biggest blow has been the withdrawal of Odion Ighalo.
The China-based striker has been in deadly form for both club and country, snatching 23 goals for his club and five for his country in his last two matches and looked in potent enough form to cause enough problems for the hosts.
Ighalo received a slight knock to his knee in his club’s final match of the season and the technical committee was not prepared to risk him against South Africa and have called up Turkish-based Henry Onyekuru to replace him.
Both countries however, have enough talent at their disposal to send out strong teams that should be able to keep the expected large crowd at the calabash shaped venue enthralled and the winner will qualify for the continental showpiece in Cameroon next year with a game to spare.