Bafana Bafana head coach Hugo Broos has described Nigeria's Super Eagles as the most improved team at AFCON 2024 even as both teams prepare to trade tackles in the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations in Bouake, Ivory Coast on Wednesday, February 7.
The South Africans booked their spot in the last four following a penalty shootout win over Cape Verde in which goalkeeper Ronwen Williams made history when he saved four spot kicks in a single AFCON game, while the Super Eagles breezed past Angola in the quarters.
Nigeria, who are clear favourites going into this tie based on the antecedents, have a solid back line, marshalled by on-field captain William Troost-Ekong and the goalkeeping brilliance and depth of Stanley Nwabali.
Nwabali plays his club football in South Africa and would be looking to frustrate the 1996 winners and earn their place in the final match, against the winners of the other semi-final match between DR Congo and hosts Ivory Coast, which will be played at Alassane Ouattara Stadium on Sunday, February 11.
Currently ranked 42nd in the world and sixth in Africa – opposed to South Africa’s global ranking of 66th and 12th in Africa – the Super Eagles go into the game unbeaten in 10 competitive matches over the past 10 months.
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Despite the praise for his next opponents in the semi-final, Broos has quietly revealed a ‘secret weapon' that they will be banking on to go past Nigeria on Wednesday evening.
Video analyst Sinesipho Mali's analysis helped the team past Cape Verde, and Broos is confident that the work behind the scenes will definitely help them get past the three-time champions.
Mali, the youngest African to acquire the International Elite Scouting qualification from the UEFA Academy, was a member of the Kaizer Chiefs scouting team and spent time with Chippa United, Nigeria goalkeeper Nwabali's club.
He was previously appointed as a video analyst by Banyana Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis ahead of the last Women's World Cup, a tournament that saw South Africa reach the knockout stages for the first time.
With that in mind, Broos hopes Mali can once again be his side's ‘secret weapon' against the tournament favourites.
“Nigeria are a team who become better and better every game, and again [vs. Angola] they are a good team with a great striker [Osimhen]. We're going to have to analyse a little bit more now,” he said.
“There is enough time to do that so we'll start and see how we can exploit the weaknesses in the team, but also be aware of their qualities.
“We prepared everything so well, and Mali has been doing fantastic work.”
Williams hopes to keep the hero's tag against Super Eagles
Hero from the last encounter and captain Williams also sang the praises of the video analyst in ensuring their victory in the last game.
“I give credit to the analyst and the goalkeeper coach as well,” he said.
“They prepare me, they cut so many videos, study the clips, pick up the trends, send them to me, so credit to them.
“My phone is full of penalty kicks, and it's not easy to get footage of some of these players, playing all over the world, so big ups to the analyst for prepping me.
“It makes my job 50% easier to know which way they're going.”
And on the success recorded in the shoot-out, coach Broos added: “In the end, it's the goalkeeper who decides in the moment, but thankfully, he had all the information, and it helps. Very nice work by the video analyst.”
Ahead of the game, it will be easier for the video analyst to track Nigerian players as most of them are foreign-based and play in mainstream Europe, including the Super Eagles' poster boy, Osimhen.
The current African Footballer of the Year has scored only once so far at the tournament, but there are doubts about whether he would get to feature in the game over the state of his health.
In order to ensure a convincing outcome from the game, Bafana Bafana's secret weapon will have to do more than monitor just Osimhen as he's not the only Super Eagles player to watch out for.
“The Super Eagles have a few other good players, including Ademola Lookman, who scored the goal in their last game, he's a very good player,” Broos advised.