By Victor Kanayo
When Nigeria’s Super Eagles play the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in the semi-final stage of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday, February 7, 2024, supporters from both countries, team and match officials as well as the organisers – Confederation of African Football (CAF) will be on the edge.
The reason is not fetched.
It is simply because, according to precedence, especially in recent times, Nigerians and South Africans are always at loggerheads when they have anything in common.
Now, the crucial AFCON tie ahead is no different.
Heritage Times HT following proceedings so far reports that the raging exchanges between both sides on social media and physically raises anxiety by the minute.
Only on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, the Nigerian Government through the country’s High Commission to South Africa in Pretoria, issued an alarming directory to its citizens living in any part of the Rainbow Nation to be wary and ensure adequate safety of their lives, despite the fact that the much anticipated encounter will occur thousands of miles away in Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire.
The statement which has been trending on and off line specifically reads, “The attention of the Nigeria High Commission in Pretoria has been drawn to potentially inflammatory online comments made by a section of South African citizens against Nigerians, largely influenced by the upcoming 2024 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) semi-final match between the Super Eagles and the Bafana Bafana on Wednesday, 7 February 2024.
“Most of the comments consist of veiled threats against “Nigerians cooking jollof rice” before the match and “showing pepper to Nigerians if Bafana Bafana loses to the Super Eagles,” among others.
“In this regard, the High Commission hereby advises the Nigerian community to be watchful of their utterances, be mindful of where they choose to watch the match, especially in public places, and refrain from engaging in loud, riotous, or provocative celebrations should the Super Eagles win the match.
“Additionally, Nigerians should maintain the good conduct they are known for and be law-abiding before, during, and after the match. Should any provocations arise, they should not be reciprocated but reported to the appropriate authorities.”
However, another aspect of the rising tension is that aside the early alarm from the Nigerian government, neither the South African government, nor CAF has made any public comment expected to douse the raging outside the pitch duel.
What The History Says On The Pitch
Whatever turns out to be the result of Wednesday’s 34th Nations Cup semi-final outing with the Bafana Bafana, the Super Eagles will extend its record of being the country with the most last-four appearances at the continental fiesta.
Since making its debut at the 1963 finals held in Ghana, where Nigeria was ejected in the group phase after 3-6 and 0-4 losses to United Arab Republic (Egypt) and Sudan respectively, the West Africa’s soccer power house been at the last-four of the tournament 15 times, and has never failed to win a medal each time.
The Eagles have gone ahead to win the trophy and gold on three occasions, won silver on four occasions and won the bronze medals eight times. They have never lost a third-place match.
On Wednesday, the three-time champions will make a 16th appearance in the semi-finals, in what is their 20th appearance at the competition. The only times Nigeria failed to make the semi-finals were in 1963, 1982, 2008 and 2021.
Between The Eagles And Bafana
To reach this stage, Nigeria defeated Angola 1-0, while South Africa edged Cape Verde 2-1 on penalties following barren regulation and extra time.
The two sides have met 14 times, with the Super Eagles enjoying a lion’s share of the results with seven victories against two for South Africa, with the remaining five ending in stalemates.
South Africa have lost a match at the tournament, a 2-0 defeat to Mali, scoring six goals and conceding two, with a 4-0 win over Namibia at the group stage, their heaviest win.
Nigeria are undefeated in five matches and have scored five goals, with just one conceded against Equatorial Guinea in their opening Group A match.
Following the year 2000 semifinal defeat, the Super Eagles edged Bafana Bafana in the quarterfinals of the 2019 edition in Egypt with a narrow 2-1 win.
South Africa are tinkered by AFCON-winning coach, Hugo Broos, who guided the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon to victory five years ago. The Belgian tactician is assisted by Helman Mkhalele, a key member of the 1996 golden generation that lifted South Africa’s first and only African title.
For the 16th time in 20 appearances, Nigeria are in the semi-finals of the competition, equaling a record set by Egypt, who have also reached the last four 16 times in 26 appearances. Behind these record holders, Ghana comes in third with 14 semi-finals played in 24 appearances.
Nigeria have lifted the trophy three times: in 1980, 1984, and 2013.
South Africa have one title in their kitty, having emerged champions as hosts of the 1996 edition when Nigeria didn’t take part.
Nigeria are aiming for their 8th appearance in the final of the competition, one less than Ghana, two less than Egypt, and one more than Cameroon.
What Overall Statistics Reveal About The Semi-finalists
The Super Eagles stand as the most experienced team at this stage. Making their 16th appearance in an AFCON semi-final, Nigeria aim for one thing – securing a spot in the final. Despite entering the tournament as favorites, Nigeria faced challenges, notably with a drawn match against Equatorial Guinea. While the focus was on their attacking prowess, the defence proved resilient, conceding only one goal.
The Eagles are the only team to reach the semi-final without playing extra time.
Anticipation met reality as the Democratic Republic of Congo secured its first victory in the Africa Cup of Nations, Ivory Coast 2023. Facing Guinea in the quarterfinals, the Leopards displayed strength, overcoming an early goal by the Syli National to win 3-1. This victory marks the fifth time in the history of DR Congo that they have reached the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Whenever DR Congo won the CAN in 1968 and 1974, they eliminated the host country in the semi-final. In 1968, they beat Ethiopia 2-3 after extra time, and in 1974, Egypt fell by the same scoreline.
January 22, 2024, witnessed the Elephants making headlines globally. Almost eliminated after a 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea, they bounced back, eliminating the reigning African champions, Senegal. In a dramatic victory against Mali, Oumar Diakité’s last-minute goal secured their place in the semi-finals. In their ninth semi-final appearance, Côte d’Ivoire faces DR Congo, setting the stage for a rematch of the 2015 semi-final where the Elephants emerged victorious with a 3-1 scoreline in Bata, Equatorial Guinea.
Côte d’Ivoire won their first Cup of Nations match in extra time since the 1992 quarterfinals, which they eventually won.
Bafana Bafana returns to the pinnacle, ending a 24-year absence from the Cup of Nations semi-finals. The South Africans impressed, eliminating Morocco, a World Cup semi-finalist, and then adding Cape Verde, previously unbeaten. Their journey continues in the semi-finals, where they face familiar foes.
In their last semi-final appearance, South Africa suffered a 2-0 loss to Nigeria in 2000.
As per last four actions, it remains to see their outcome after 90 minutes or with an extension to 120 minutes should the regulation time fails to produce a winner.