Bafana Bafana coach, Stuart Baxter, has drawn comparisons between the Nigerian team his charges beat in the West African country in June of last year and the current one, which many believe is much stronger.
While many commentators are not giving Bafana Bafana a chance against the current Nigerian team, saying it was an under-strength team that Bafana Bafana beat 2-0 last year, Baxter believes the current team is beatable.
Bafana Bafana and Nigeria’s Super Eagles will revive their rivalry when they meet on Saturday at the FNB stadium in a crucial 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Bafana Bafana’s 2-0 victory over the Super Eagles in June last year was only the second win for the South Africans over their arch-rivals in thirteen meetings, having lost seven with four draws. It was a sweet victory for South Africans as it was achieved in the most convincing manner and in the Super Eagles’ own backyard.
That victory took Bafana Bafana to the top of Group E of the qualifiers and instilled belief in South Africans that they now have a strong team capable of qualifying for a major international tournament.
However, since then Nigeria have won three of their consecutive AFCON qualifiers and are perched at the top of the group. The current Super Eagles’ team has mostly young players with few experienced ones as they are in a rebuilding phase. This has led to many believing last year’s win by Bafana Bafana was against an under-strength team.
Baxter says the team his charges beat last year was just as strong, but the two Nigerian teams only have different playing styles.
“This is a good Nigerian team. I thought the Nigerian team we played before was a good team, but I think they are a bit different in style. One’s got bit more energy, and one’s got bit more experience. Whenever you play Nigeria you know you are going to be up against a team that brings players from all over the world, but if you’re asking me, let’s forget about it and just concentrate on Libya not at all. We have it all in our hands and we are going to do everything to get a result.”
Drawing with Libya in Durban and Seychelles has made some South Africans doubt whether Bafana Bafana can repeat last year’s feat. If there’s a coach who can do it again, it’s Baxter, as he’s the only Bafana Bafana coach ever to have beaten the Super Eagles. Bafana’s only other win over the Super Eagles is a 2-1 victory in an international friendly in 2004 achieved under Baxter’s mentorship.
While Baxter says Nigeria always has a strong team comprising players playing their trade at the highest level, the 65-year old says he has enough quality in his squad to beat the West Africans. “As the national coach of South Africa, I am thinking we have enough equipment to make sure this is a very difficult game for them and given that I think we can beat them now, we will do everything in our power to do that.”
Bafana Bafana goalkeeper, Itumeleng Khune, who was between the sticks when Bafana Bafana humbled the Super Eagles in their own backyard last year, also believes they have enough quality in the team to repeat last year’s feat. “They are a beatable side. We respect them, but we don’t fear them. We just have to go out there and repeat what we did in Nigeria by playing a good brand of football and taking our chances.”
While Nigeria will be without their leading goal scorer, Odin Ighalo, their squad boasts some of the best football talent on the continent such as Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa who was a marvel to watch at the recent World Cup in Russia.