South Africa vs Nigeria | Sunday 29 March | Mbombela Stadium | 15:00
South Africa and Nigeria will resume their football rivalry during the international break as the two nations go head-to-head on Sunday in Nelspruit in a friendly match. Bafana Bafana denied the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations champions a chance to compete at the 2015 showpiece, so the Super Eagles are expected to come out all guns blazing in order to prove a point. The sides have met eleven times before with Bafana having prevailed only once, losing seven encounters and drawing the other three.
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South Africa topped their 2015 Afcon qualification group with Nigeria finishing third after failing to beat Bafana, drawing both matches. Shakes Mashaba’s men came out of both fixtures feeling like they could have done better as the first meeting ended in a goalless draw at Cape Town Stadium in which South Africa spurned two late chances. In the return game Bafana conceded two late goals to draw 2-2. South Africa will take on Swaziland in Lobamba four days prior to this clash and it will be the first match Mashaba's men will play since the 2015 AFCON in Equatorial Guinea where they failed to get out of the group stages. There are several changes to that squad with the most notable ones being the return of ex-captain Itumeleng Khune and Ajax Amsterdam’s Thulani Serero.
There were also first call-ups for six players from the PSL: Daniel Cardoso, Thapelo Morena, Lebohang Phiri, Cole Alexander, Thabo Mnyamane and Siphelele Ntshangase. More established players also return like Sibusiso Khumalo, Jabulani Shongwe, May Mahlangu, Ayanda Patosi and Lehlohonolo Majoro after failing to feature in the AFCON. The team have struggled in the striking department which has resulted in Mashaba dropping Bongani Ndulula and Bernard Parker. All eyes will be on Tokelo Rantie who will be looking to put a poor AFCON showing behind him while Orlando Pirates’ Majoro will likely feature off the bench. Three players have withdrawn from the squad. May Mahlangu and Anele Ngcongca are out due to injury while Dean Furman has been excused from duty after his club, Doncaster Rovers, requested he stays in England as they seek promotion from League One.
Nigeria begin a rebuilding phase after failing to qualify to defend their AFCON title in Equatorial Guinea. Interim coach David Amokachi has included seventeen overseas-based based players in his 27-man squad which will also play Uganda ahead of this clash. The squad is headed by Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama who is set to win his 100th cap for his country while vice-captain John Obi Mikel misses out with injury. Amokachi has dropped several regulars like Stoke’s Victor Moses, Fenerbahce’s Emmanuel Emenike, Celtic’s Efe Ambrose and Monaco’s Elderson Echiejile. Enyeama, Godfrey Oboabona, Kenneth Omeruo, Ahmed Musa, Sone Aluko, Ogenyi Onazi and Azubuike Egwuekwe are the usual names in the squad as Amokachi continues his interim affair with the Super Eagles. In-form strikers Brown Ideye of West Brom and Anthony Ujah of Cologne have been recalled to the team.
Nigeria held dominance over South Africa for many years on the football field but Bafana will be the nation coming into this match with the bragging rights after finishing top of the qualification group that Nigeria struggled in. South Africa's U17 team, Amajimbos, also pipped the Golden Eaglets to a place in the final at the African U17 Championship in Niger last month. The Nigerian Football Federation’s Vice President Seyi Akinwunmi has since assured Nigerians that the Super Eagles will not treat this game lightly. Akinwunmi said: "It is a friendly match, but Nigeria wants to win all games, whether friendly or competitive. The Bafana Bafana played a big role in the Eagles not qualifying to go to Equatorial Guinea to defend their African title, at the last African Cup of Nations, and I don't think the Super Eagles have forgotten that.” Ahmed Musa is arguably Nigeria’s biggest threat going forward. The CSKA Moscow winger is the third top scorer in the Russian Premier League, tied with Zenit’s Hulk, helping his side to their current second spot on the table.
VERDICT: South Africa
South Africa are coming off a poor showing at the AFCON where they lost both to Algeria and Ghana during the group stages and drew with Senegal. However, Mashaba has brought in some good talent from Europe and arguably Bafana’s two best players in Khune and Serero. Nigeria have also made several changes to the team that has had no success in the last two years and both sets of players will be looking to impress. Bafana will have home advantage and that always helps the team’s possession game. It should be a tight affair but the home team should edge it.