Bafana Bafana have it all to play for when they meet Nigeria in their Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) quarter-final today.
The match will be South Africa’s 14th meeting against the Super Eagles after their readmission into the international football world in 1992.
Their first meeting was in Lagos during a 1994 Soccer World Cup qualifying fixture which the west Africans thrashed Bafana 4-0.
The return-leg at Soccer City ended goalless and it would be the last time South Africa met the Super Eagles until the millennium Afcon edition in 2000.
The two nations met in the semi-finals, but a double from Tijana Babangida ended South Africa’s hopes making it to the final.
In 2004, Nigeria put four goals past ‘keeper Emile Baron to beat Bafana Bafana 4-0 in the Afcon group stages.
It was only later that year South Africa would claim their first victory over the Super Eagles, this time in a friendly. Goals from Shaun Bartlett and Benedict Vilakazi earned Bafana a 2-1 win.
The following six matches — from 2008-2015 — would see South Africa lose three and draw three.
However, in June 2017 things took a turn for the better when Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau gave Bafana a rare 2-0 Afcon qualifying victory at the famous Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo.
The return leg — and most recent clash between the two sides — ended in a 1-1 stalemate at the FNB Stadium in November 2018.
Bafana Bafana and the Super Eagles both started their 2019 Afcon campaigns slowly.
South Africa suffered two defeats in the group stages which nearly saw them packing their bags, only to sneak in to the last 16 as the last of the third-placed nations.
Surprisingly, Nigeria ended as runners-up in their group after going down to the tournament’s dark-horses, Madagascar, while only edging Burundi and Guinea, both by 1-0 margins.
But things changed in the last 16 when both Bafana Bafana and Nigeria displayed vastly improved performances against Egypt and Cameroon, respectively.
Bafana beat hosts Egypt 1-0, while Nigeria edged defending champions Cameroon 3-2.
Today’s clash promises to be a humdinger with the two footballing giants finding their rhythm at the right time.
Meanwhile, Senegal boss Aliou Cisse said the surprise exit of hosts Egypt and Morocco and the elimination of defending champions Cameroon has fuelled hopes of a first Africa Cup of Nations title.
Cisse was captain of the team that reached the 2002 final, losing to Cameroon on penalties, and is now coach of a strong side featuring Liverpool star Sadio Mane and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
“It’s true that Cameroon are not here, the big favourites are no longer here today. Of course that gives us ideas and it gives us even more confidence to say yes, maybe this year will be the one,” Cisse said yesterday.
“But like I said, that’s just hope and it won’t be enough. We’ll have to work very hard, we’ll have to be serious, and that is what we’re doing.”
However, Cisse warned Senegal would pay the price for looking any further than today’s quarter-final with Benin in Cairo.
Michel Dussuyer’s side have, remarkably, progressed to the last eight in Egypt for the first time despite not winning a single game.
But after advancing in third place following three draws in a group that included both Cameroon and Ghana, Benin survived a missed Hakim Ziyech spot-kick in stoppage time before beating Herve Renard’s Morocco in a penalty shootout in the last 16.
“As for Benin, I’ll say it again and again, for the past four years I have been here trying to convince you that there are no small teams on the African continent anymore,” said Cisse.
“And I believe that this Afcon has shown that again, that winning in Africa is difficult, winning in Africa is complicated and wrong are those teams who think that a match is already settled.”
Today: Senegal v Benin (30 June Stadium 18:00), Nigeria v South Africa (Cairo International Stadium 21:00).
Tomorrow: Cote d’Ivoire v Algeria (Suez Stadium 18:00), Madagascar v Tunisia (Al-Salam Stadium 21:00). — Sport24.