COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
It is hard to countenance that it's indeed been two and half years since that infamous meeting between Nigeria and South Africa in Uyo. It marked the end of a beginning, and a low point from which the Super Eagles are only now snapping out of.
In that regard, meeting Bafana Bafana again, on the same stage and with the same object – an Africa Cup of Nations ticket – in view, is the ultimate opportunity for cathartic revenge. South Africa have hardly built on that “success” themselves, much as it was celebrated, although in Stuart Baxter, they have a new manager at the helm, and a chance to realise their undoubted potential.
However, they are once more the biggest threat to Nigeria qualifying for the continent’s footballing showpiece. While the competitive record between both countries does not suggest much of a rivalry, there is a special glee for Bafana Bafana whenever they can play the spoiler, and they would love nothing more than to puncture the feel-good narrative around a young Super Eagles side.
There is therefore no room for complacency, and Nigeria would do well to pay major attention to South Africa’s major threats.
Yes, him again.
The new man Baxter has opted not to shake things up too much, meaning there will be some familiar faces on Saturday, several hold-overs from the Debacle of Uyo in November 2014. Tokelo Rantie, who proved the scourge of the Super Eagles on that night of shattered dreams, will return to his old stomping ground.
It has not been a strong season for Rantie though. He has struggled to assert himself at Genclerbirligi, and grappling with sundry injury concerns. For him, consistency over the long haul is problematic, but he has no problems geeing himself up in bursts.
He is a tireless runner, more tasking on a defender’s concentration that particularly lethal in his movements, and could prove a handful for a youthful defence that remains prone to somnolent interludes. Then again, Kenneth Omeruo would know all about that, having been raked over the coals in that 2-2 draw.
If Baxter desires to break with the past and look ahead, he will opt for Percy Tau upfront. The 23-year-old forward earned huge plaudits for his performances with reigning African champions Mamelodi Sundowns this season, and possesses a wand of a left foot.
He announced himself with a cracking strike at the Fifa Club World Cup last year, scoring a belter in a 4-1 loss to Jeonbuk Motors, and is thriving upfront for the Brazilians. He is also off the mark in international football, scoring in the friendly victory over Guinea Bissau in March.
Tau possesses tremendous acceleration and quick feet, and looks to play on the shoulder of the opposing defence. Any attempts to employ an offside line will need to be perfectly synchronized. He is also capable of dropping off the front and playing in team mates, and so is certainly one to keep tabs on at all times.
Dolly was one of the lynchpins of Sundowns’ run to Caf Champions League glory last year, and was a shining light for South Africa at the Olympics in Rio. After a tough first six months in France with Montpelier, he will be eager to prove he still has the magic.
In a South Africa side packed with central-midfielder types, it is from Dolly and, to a lesser degree, Aubrey Ngoma, that Bafana will seek creative inspiration. The 24-year-old is a busy little gem of a player, with a fierce shot on him and the ability to receive and manoeuvre in tight spaces.
Dolly’s movement, either out wide or on the sides of the opposing defensive midfielders, will greatly tempt the discipline of the Super Eagles’ defensive midfield pairing.