Afcon 2023 semi-final: Nigeria vs South Africa
Venue: Stade de la Paix, Bouake Date: Wednesday, 7 February Kick-off: 17:00 GMT Coverage: Live on BBC Two, iPlayer and BBC Sport website (UK only), radio commentary on BBC World Service in Africa, live text updates on BBC Sport website
Three-time African champions Nigeria will rekindle their continental rivalry with South Africa in a highly-anticipated semi-final at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday.
The West Africans have won all three of their previous meetings at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), have the better head-to-head record and are the highest-ranked side remaining in Ivory Coast.
Yet 1996 winners Bafana Bafana have already knocked out Morocco, Africa’s top-ranked side, and will aim to avenge the pain of past meetings with Nigeria when appearing in the last four for the first time since 2000 – when they were beaten 2-0 by the Super Eagles.
“It’s a kind of rivalry between Nigeria and South Africa and it is a do-or-die game between the two countries,” former Nigeria international Tijani Babangida told BBC Sport Africa.
“In 2000, we met in the semi-final and now it happens again. It’s going to be a battle. This Super Eagles team are determined to reach the final and win the trophy.”
The countries’ most recent Afcon meeting came in the 2019 quarter-finals in Egypt, with goals from Samuel Chukwueze and William Troost-Ekong giving the Super Eagles a 2-1 win.
South Africa won their sole Afcon title as hosts in 1996, on what was their debut at the finals.
Having finished as runners-up two years later before coming third in 2000, following their semi-final defeat by Nigeria in Lagos, Bafana Bafana failed to get past the quarter-finals again on three subsequent occasions until beating Cape Verde on penalties in Yamoussoukro on Saturday.
“We have come relatively close before, losing to a last-minute goal to Nigeria in 2019,” former South Africa captain Dean Furman told the BBC World Football at Afcon podcast.
“We lost in 2013 in the quarter-finals but finally we’ve got over the hurdle and what a way to do it. It’s huge.”
Nigeria the ‘nemesis’ for Bafana
Nigeria are ranked 42nd in the world, 24 places above South Africa, but Bafana Bafana pulled off one of the shocks of the knock-out stages when Hugo Broos’ side beat Morocco 2-0 in the last 16.
“Their performance (against Morocco) was one of the best I have seen from Bafana in a very long time,” Mark Fish, a key part of the 1996 Afcon-winning squad, told BBC Sport Africa.
“The technical team and players have an understanding of what they need to do on the field and they are doing it remarkably well.
“The atmosphere is very encouraging and positive. It is similar to what I experienced when I was playing.”
Nigeria hold a better head-to-head record, with seven wins and five draws against South Africa, and the semi-final in Bouake will be the 15th meeting across all competitions between the two rivals.
Former Orlando Pirates, Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic defender Fish is keen for Bafana Bafana to forget history and play with “a positive attitude”.
“Nigeria is our nemesis in the sense that they have had more success over us than we have had over them,” the 49-year-old added.
“We know Nigeria are physically very strong and have very talented players. But South Africa should take the same mentality that they have had in every game in the knock-out stages.”
‘Phenomenal’ goalkeepers face off
Both teams boast goalkeepers who could be named as the best at the finals in Ivory Coast, with four clean sheets apiece.
Moreover, South Africa captain Ronwen Williams displayed a man-of-the-match performance with four penalty saves in the shoot-out victory over Cape Verde.
“Ronwen is the toast of South Africa. To save four penalties is just phenomenal,” Furman said.
“I’m so pleased for him – an incredible guy, the skipper and that is what you call leading by example.”
With just two senior caps before their Group A opener against, Nigeria keeper Stanley Nwabali has been one of the revelations of the tournament with composed and confident displays in his first Afcon with the Super Eagles.
The 27-year-old, who like his opposite number plays in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League, has eased fears Nigerian supporters had about the goalkeeping department.
“Nwabali came in and is keeping very well,” Babangida said.
“He is good with the ball at his feet. Bringing him into the team has cushioned the problem that we are having in that aspect.”
Babangida was the match-winner when the sides met in 2000, scoring both goals at a tournament co-hosted by Ghana and Nigeria.
But he says the Super Eagles had some nerves before meeting a South Africa side, who had knocked out the Black Stars in the Ghanaian capital Accra, with stars like Fish, Lucas Radebe, Quinton Fortune and Shaun Bartlett.
“South Africa were leading in Africa at that time and Nigeria had been out of Africa competition for almost four years,” Babangida, 50, said, referring to his nation’s withdrawal from the 1996 finals, which resulted in a ban from those in 1998.
“In the semi-final, Nigerians were jittery because they (South Africa) had already beaten Ghana and were confident. It was a tense game but we were more determined and got them at the right moment.”
Although Nigeria won that tie, they were beaten in the final by neighbours Cameroon, who lifted the trophy after a penalty shoot-out.