Nigeria’s Super Eagles are gearing up to face South Africa today (Wednesday, February 7) in the semifinals of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
The West African giants are eyeing a chance to secure a spot in the final for the first time since 2013.
The Super Eagles, ranked sixth on the continent, enter the match as favourites against the 12th-ranked Bafana Bafana.
The South Africans are no minnows, having gained attention by eliminating Africa’s top-ranked side, Morocco, in the Round of 16.
The Bafana Bafana have lost one game in five and have kept four consecutive clean sheets at the AFCON.
The Super Eagles must bring their A-game and get the next five things right to defeat the unpredictable Bafana Bafana.
Stay solid in defence
Nigeria boast the best defence at the AFCON, conceding only one goal in the tournament — a result of the 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea on matchday one.
Led by the formidable trio of William Troost-Ekong, Semi Ajayi, and Calvin Bassey, the Super Eagles have kept four clean sheets in five games.
Head coach Jose Peseiro will look to retain this defensive unit.
The Portuguese tactician should also emphasise the need to avoid errors and maintain the Eagles’ excellent organizational structure against South Africa.
Start and serve Osimhen
Despite initial concerns about an unnamed stomach complication, Victor Osimhen has passed a late fitness test and is set to lead the Super Eagles attack.
As the reigning Africa Footballer of the Year, Osimhen’s impact on the team has been significant.
Despite having only one goal in five games at AFCON, Peseiro is expected to start him over Kelechi Iheanacho and Paul Onuachu.
The key lies in supplying quality passes and crosses to Osimhen, who, when given the right service, can be a lethal goal-scorer.
Get Ademola Lookman closer to goal
Ademola Lookman is Nigeria’s top goalscorer at AFCON, netting three goals in crucial encounters.
As Osimhen has faced challenges in finding the net, Lookman has stepped up, scoring against Cameroon and Angola.
Peseiro’s tactics should focus on bringing Lookman closer to the opponents’ danger area, capitalising on his ability to score with both feet, especially if Osimhen is tightly marked.
Deploy reserve resources wisely
Nigeria’s substitute bench stands out as the most talented at AFCON, including Kelechi Iheanacho, Terem Moffi, and Paul Onuachu.
While Peseiro has found success with the starting eleven, smart utilisation of the bench could be crucial in unlocking South Africa’s sturdy defence.
A judicious mix of attacking resources can give the Super Eagles the needed edge.
South Africa’s recent triumph over Cape Verde via penalties, with goalkeeper Ronwen Williams emerging as the hero, highlights the need for Nigeria to avoid a penalty shootout scenario.
Williams’s outstanding ability, saving four out of five penalties, could pose a serious threat if the game goes into penalties.
Nigeria’s path to a fourth continental title involves winning in regulation time or extra time, steering clear of the potential influence of South Africa’s penalty shootout brilliance.
As three-time winners, Nigeria head into the clash with South Africa with the right blend of desire, experience, and quality.
A victory in this encounter will bring them one step closer to their dream of clinching the continental title again.