South Africa versus Nigeria: A one-sided battle

Wednesday night's international friendly opens another chapter in the bitter rivalry between the two African powerhouses, which has been dominated by the Super Eagles

South Africa and Nigeria continue their rivalry during a friendly international on Wednesday night, a rivalry which extends beyond the football pitch.

Powerhouses of the African continent, the two nations have formed a tense relationship in terms of diplomacy and are competitors on the economic front. Despite a strong trade relationship, Nigeria and South Africa have struggled to maintain consistent political co-operation.

This tension resulted in a star-studded Nigerian team sensationally withdrawing from the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations, hosted in South Africa, with the Nigerian government concerned about the security of their players due to a political spat.

Following South Africa’s greatest international feat – winning the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations – Nigeria claimed that Bafana Bafana would never have lifted the trophy if the Super Eagles had not pulled out of the tournament. This is arguably where, what is now a near hostile rivalry, began.  

1992: Nigeria 4-0 South Africa

The Super Eagles crushed South Africa in their first clash since Bafana Bafana returned from isolation, effectively ending their hopes of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup.
2000: Nigeria 2-0 South Africa

The 2000 Africa Cup of Nations semi-final pitted the bitter rivals against each other once again, with the Super Eagles continuing their domination with a 2-0 win in Lagos.
2004: Nigeria 4-0 South Africa

The Super Eagles provided yet another impeccable performance against their rivals in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations, with the win helping them finish above South Africa in the group stages.

Politics aside, the Super Eagles have maintained dominance over South African football, with Bafana Bafana often succumbing to heavy defeats against their illustrious rivals. Since readmission, Nigeria has been South Africa’s nemesis. 

Nigeria ended a 19-year title drought by winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations on South African shores, with Stephen Keshi’s charges triumphing in their rival’s backyard despite many odds and criticism stacked against them. While Bafana Bafana’s ranking drops, the Super Eagles’ rise - a common denominator in this supremely uneven rivalry.      

The most populous African nation, Nigeria has provided the footballing world with powerful and talented players, which have succeeded in competitive leagues. Names like Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, John Obi Mikel, Yakubu, Kanu and Daniel Amokachi roll off the tongue. The Super Eagles continue to produce myriad gifted players, as their new stock is brimming with promise and skill. The side has recovered from the doldrums, where they often underperformed in major tournaments, and will now look to regain their status as the dominant force in African football.

South Africa’s reserves have not been as successful, with the country experiencing a dearth of world-class players since the turn of the century. Bafana’s future is changing as new talents emerge, but Nigeria’s current group of players are arguably on a different level. Already household names due to their performances in the Africa Cup of Nations, players like Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike and Sunday Mba have garnered far more attention than South Africa’s burgeoning talents Tokelo Rantie and May Mahlangu. South Africa, without their retired former captain and exceptional midfielder Steven Pienaar, are in the process of developing a side which can merely compete on the international stage. 

Results since readmission highlight the Super Eagles ascendancy in this footballing rivalry. In their last seven clashes, Nigeria have won five, while Bafana Bafana have only been victors on one occasion. Their lone victory came in 2004 - a 2-1 win in the Nelson Mandela Challenge. Since the turn of the century, South Africa has conceded 10 goals against Nigeria and have only scored two. Their most recent meetings in 2008, saw the Super Eagles triumph both at home and away. South African fans now fear the prospect of facing their bitter rivals, and would rather avoid them at all costs.     

Now champions of Africa, the Super Eagles will be confident in their ability to continue dictating terms against Bafana Bafana on the football pitch. Wednesday night may be a torrid time for Gordon Igesund’s troops, if history repeats itself, and Nigeria remain determined to uphold what has become a one-sided battle.