At the start of the tournament in the Ivory Coast, not many people gave either the Super Eagles or Bafana Bafana the chance to be in the semis – well, except diehard fans of the two teams.
South Africa have managed to navigate their way to the last four with some swash-buckling football and defensive steel, while Nigeria have elected to go with a more conservative approach, which has yielded dividends for both teams.
There has been 14 match-ups between the two teams at full international men’s level. The earliest was Nigeria’s 4-0 win over South Africa in Lagos in a 1994 World Cup qualifier, and the latest was a Super Eagles 2-1 win at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
In summary, in the 14 internationals between them, Nigeria have won seven of those, South Africa have two wins and five draws have been recorded.
In retrospect, many South African fans will point to their 2-0 demolition of Nigeria in their backyard in Uyo in a 2019 World Africa Cup of Nations qualifier as probably Bafana Bafana's finest moment against the Super Eagles.
Nigeria chopped and skewered in Uyo
Dateline: 11 June 2017, Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo, Nigeria
It was the first game of the qualifiers for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, and Nigeria were looking to make amends after missing the last two editions of the Africa Nations Cup – 2015 in Equatorial Guinea and 2017 in Gabon.
The team was brimming with confidence, considering the talent in the squad and the fact that up until that point, South Africa had never beaten Nigeria in a competitive game.
The signs were good. Or so Nigerians thought.
The Tekolo Rantie and Percy Tau show vs Super Eagles
Nigeria started the game pretty well, and it looked like it was going to be a long day at the office for Bafana Bafana, but after the initial onslaught, the pendulum changed.
Nigeria initiated the action in the 11th minute, with Wilfred Ndidi's left-footed volley narrowly missing the target.
The Eagles continued their assault, with Kelechi Iheanacho's precise pass to Peter Etebo in the 23rd minute, but the effort flashed wide.
As the match unfolded, South Africa seized the momentum, nearly breaking the deadlock in the 42nd minute. Nigeria's goalkeeper, Daniel Akpeyi, dropped Tebogo Langerman's cross, and Themba Zwane's strike rattled against the upright.
Despite the Eagles' fervent attacks in the second half, they struggled to create significant scoring opportunities.
Bafana turned the tide in the 54th minute when Tokelo Rantie met Ramahlwe Mphahlele's cross with a powerful header, beating Akpeyi and claiming the lead.
The drama continued as Zwane struck the upright again in the 70th minute.
In the 78th minute, Ahmed Musa and Etebo's efforts were thwarted by Dean Furman on the goal line as the Super Eagles went in search of the equaliser.
It never came as South Africa secured the victory in the 81st minute when Percy Tau finished a splendid counter-attack, sealing the points in a thrilling encounter.
Super Eagles wings clipped
It was a day to forget for many Nigerians as they trooped out of the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo, wondering how their team got run ragged and if the team would miss out on the AFCON for a third straight time.
The Super Eagles did bounce back to win the group ahead of South Africa, even as both sides qualified for 2019.
Even though that didn’t bury the ghosts of the humiliation in Uyo, it did a bit to calm frayed nerves.
To put the game into proper perspective, it was former Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr’s first loss in charge of the Super Eagles.
It was also South Africa’s first-ever competitive win over Nigeria, and they were certainly worth the result. It could have been more if Bafana Bafana were more clinical in front of goal.
The next phase of this thrilling series will happen on Wednesday, February 7 at the Stade de la Paix in Bouake.