Nigeria vs South Africa: Where AFCON semi-final between Super Eagles and Bafana Bafana will be won and lost

To the uninitiated, Nigeria and South Africa are so far apart on the map it boggles the mind that a Nigeria vs South Africa rivalry exist.

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.

As they take on each other on Wednesday in the semi-finals of the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024), there will be no shortage of intensity and hostility.

There have only been three previous meetings at the AFCON, all of which Nigeria have won with varying degrees of comfort.

Back in 2000, the last time Bafana Bafana were in the tournament's semi-finals, it was, in fact, Nigeria who, courtesy of a 2-0 victory, stopped them from reaching a second final in three editions.

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And while Nigeria would look to keep that trend going, the South Africans will feel quite confident about their chances this time. The ‘Mamelodi Sundowns template’ has worked pretty well for Hugo Broos’ team thus far, after all, and belief has grown especially since they eliminated pre-tournament favourites Morocco in the Round of 16.

In the end, though, history and recent form might count for very little.

The winner of this Nigeria vs South Africa clash, most likely, would be the team that prevails in the following key battles out on the pitch.

Nigeria's star attack vs a miserly Bafana Bafana defence

In the high-stakes clash between Nigeria's dynamic attacking trio and South Africa's resolute defence, the AFCON semi-final promises a showdown of contrasting styles.

Spearheading the Nigerian attack, Lookman, Osimhen, and Simon have been pivotal in their team's journey, showcasing their prowess and versatility on the field. Lookman's three goals, coupled with Osimhen's clinical finish and Simon's creative flair, underline Nigeria's offensive threat.

However, standing in their path is the formidable South African defence marshalled by the indomitable Ronwen Williams. With just two goals conceded in five matches – in the 2-0 loss to Mali in the opener – the Bafana Bafana defence has proven to be a tough nut to crack.

Their disciplined backline, anchored by Williams' leadership, has thwarted numerous attacks throughout the tournament.

Nigeria vs South Africa
Photo by Icon Sport

This internal Nigeria vs South Africa battle is poised to be a decisive factor in determining the outcome of this crucial encounter.

Can Lookman, Osimhen, and Simon unlock the defence and propel Nigeria to victory? Or will Williams and his defensive cohorts stand firm and deny their opponents?

The answer to this intriguing battle will likely determine which team secures a coveted spot in the AFCON 2024 final.

The Iwobi/Onyeka vs Sithole/Mokoena midfield battle

The midfield battleground in the Nigeria vs South Africa clash sets the stage for a clash of skill, strategy, and tenacity.

Nigeria's midfield duo of Alex Iwobi and Frank Onyeka brings a blend of creativity and defensive solidity to their team's setup. Iwobi's vision and playmaking ability have been instrumental in orchestrating Nigeria's attacking movements, while Onyeka's tireless work ethic and defensive awareness provide a crucial shield for the backline.

Facing them is the formidable pairing of Yaya Sithole and Teboho Mokoena, who form the backbone of South Africa's midfield. Sithole's dynamism and ball-winning capabilities complement Mokoena's composure and distribution, forming a formidable partnership in the centre of the park.

The outcome of this midfield battle is likely to shape the flow and tempo of the game.

Can Iwobi and Onyeka impose their rhythm and dictate play, breaking through South Africa's midfield barrier? Or will Sithole and Mokoena disrupt Nigeria's attacking flow and assert control over the game?

The destiny of this Nigeria vs South Africa clash could depend on that!

With both pairs possessing the skills and determination to sway the balance in their team's favour, the midfield duel promises to be a captivating subplot in what is sure to be a fiercely contested encounter. The outcome of this battle could ultimately tilt the scales in favour of the team that can assert dominance in the middle of the park.

Troost-Ekong/Ajayi/Bassey vs Tau/Zwane/Makgopa

The Nigeria vs South Africa battle at the back will be pivotal as both teams look to secure a spot in the final. Nigeria's defensive trio of William Troost-Ekong, Semi Ajayi, and Calvin Bassey has been rock-solid throughout the tournament, conceding just one goal in their campaign.

Their cohesion, organisation, and individual prowess have provided a formidable barrier for opposition attacks, epitomising resilience and reliability.

However, they face a stern test against the potent South African attacking trio of Percy Tau, Themba Zwane, and Evidence Makgopa, who have been instrumental in their team's journey to the semi-finals.

With four goals between them, this attacking triumvirate possesses pace, skill, and predatory instincts, capable of unlocking even the most disciplined defences.

The outcome of this defensive showdown hinges on whether Nigeria's Troost Ekong, Ajayi, and Bassey can contain the threat posed by Tau, Zwane, and Magkopa.

Will the Nigerian defence maintain its resolute form and stifle the South African attack? Or will the Bafana attack find a way to breach their defences and propel them into the final?

As the stakes escalate in this crucial Nigeria vs South Africa encounter, the battle between Nigeria's defence and South Africa's attack promises to be a captivating spectacle, with both teams vying for supremacy and a coveted place in the AFCON final.

Nigeria vs South Africa: A cracking AFCON 2024 clash?

The banter has already started on social media, and, hopefully, the players would get the field buzzing too on matchday.

A whole generation has passed since South Africa last played in an AFCON semi-final. Broos — the most recent expatriate to win the competition with Cameroon back in 2019 — would hope the occasion doesn't faze his players and that his own experience can rub off on them.

Nigeria, on the other hand, would be wary of a stage of AFCON 2024 where they've already fallen eight times in the past. To avoid slipping up a ninth time, Peseiro's side would need all the composure that had got them this far, and which you just can't do without in a high-stakes situation like this one.

Whatever happens, this Nigeria vs South Africa match has all the ingredients to serve up a tasty treat!

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Godfred Budu

Godfred Budu is a purpose-driven Ghanaian sports writer with a sharp eye for excellence. He has had stints with and He loves to talk and write about football on the African continent.