AFCON winner labels Nigeria vs South Africa showdown ‘The game of our lives’

Former Super Eagles striker Victor Ikpeba has dubbed the Nigeria vs South Africa 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier as the “game of our lives.”

The Super Eagles had a shaky start to their qualifiers, drawing against lesser teams like Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

As a result of the draws, the Super Eagles now sit in third place in Group C, trailing South Africa by one point and Rwanda by two points.

To boost their chances of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in eight years, Nigeria must defeat South Africa in Uyo on June 7, and then secure a victory against Benin Republic in Abidjan on June 10.

The 50-year-old Ikpeba is confident that the Super Eagles’ new head coach, Finidi George, can steer the team to victory against their biggest Group C rivals.

AFCON winner calls Nigeria vs South Africa showdown ‘The game of our lives’
Photo by Icon Sport

He emphasised that the squad has all the necessary players for the task. Ikpeba also believes that the experience gained from reaching the final of the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) after defeating South Africa in the semi-finals will aid Nigeria in overcoming the Bafana Bafana once again.

Ikpeba rallies Super Eagles ahead of crucial Nigeria vs South Africa clash

Speaking on the on the significance of the upcoming match, Ikpeba stressed the critical nature of the Super Eagles' game against South Africa. He expressed confidence in the new head coach, Finidi George, and the team's potential to secure a win.

“The game against South Africa is the game of our lives,” the former Monaco man said as per Naija News.

“Finidi has the players having only recently reached the final of the Afcon, which was one of the toughest ever. The boys know what is at stake. They have to be focused and make the necessary sacrifices to ensure they beat South Africa. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.”

AFCON winner calls Nigeria vs South Africa showdown ‘The game of our lives’
Photo by Icon Sport

Ikpeba, now a member of the technical committee of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), was part of the Super Eagles team that won Nigeria's second AFCON title in 1994. On an individual level he was named African Footballer of the Year in 1997.

Nigeria vs South Africa head-to-head

To the uninitiated, Nigeria vs South Africa should not generate as much passion as it does, seeing as the two countries are so far apart on the map.

Yet there is nothing contrived about the rivalry shared by these continental giants — spilling over from diplomatic tensions into the sporting arena and beyond, going all the way back to South Africa's apartheid days — and as they take on each other in June in 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, there will be no shortage of intensity and hostility.

There have been a total of 15 previous meetings between the Super Eagles and Bafana Bafana, with the Super Eagles winning eight times, Bafana Bafana winning two, and five matches ending in draws.

Their first meeting was on October 10, 1992, in a FIFA World Cup qualifier, with Nigeria comfortably defeating South Africa 4-0.

AFCON winner calls Nigeria vs South Africa showdown ‘The game of our lives’
Photo by Icon Sport

Their last meeting was at the last AFCON in Ivory Coast, with Nigeria emerging victors via penalty shootouts after the game ended 1-1.

Can Finidi George pass the South Africa test?

Finidi George faced his first major test as manager of the Super Eagles when Nigeria clashed with South Africa in the semi-finals of the AFCON back in February.

Serving as an assistant to Jose Peseiro at the time, the match ended with Nigeria triumphing over South Africa in a tense penalty shootout.

Following Peseiro's departure, George was entrusted with leading the team in international friendlies against Ghana and Mali.

Despite a victory against Ghana, the Super Eagles suffered a defeat to Mali, leading to criticism from Nigerian fans who questioned Finidi's suitability for the managerial role.

In a surprising move, Finidi was appointed as the new manager of the Super Eagles in May, much to the dismay of many skeptics.

AFCON winner calls Nigeria vs South Africa showdown ‘The game of our lives’
Photo by NFF Media

Now faced with the daunting task of winning over the Nigerian football faithful, Finidi must guide his team to victory against South Africa to silence his critics and prove his capability.

Qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup is on the line, and after missing out on the last edition in Qatar, the pressure is on George to deliver a convincing performance and ensure Nigeria's path to the global stage once again.

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Godfred Budu

Godfred Budu, a Ghanaian sports journalist, brings a dynamic perspective to the field with over a decade of experience. Having contributed to esteemed platforms such as Kickgh.com and Inkandkicks.com. Godfred is recognised for his insightful commentary and in-depth analysis of African football.
His passion for storytelling and commitment to accuracy have established him as a trusted authority in sports journalism in Ghana, captivating audiences with his engaging narratives and unparalleled expertise.
Godfred holds a degree in Integrated Development Studies (Social and Development Administration option) from the University for Development Studies, Ghana.