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Nigeria title contender tag is real
The Super Eagles will always be obvious favourites going into any Afcon tournament but they didn’t live up to it after finishing second in Group B behind Madagascar and put up a poor defensive show against Cameroon in the Round of 16. Coming up against a Bafana Bafana side who saw off tournament hosts, Egypt, was going to be very difficult, but it proved to be a much better display from all departments this time, controlling the tempo of the game and preventing the South Africans from threatening. If the West African giants can maintain this in the semi-finals, a fourth Afcon crown has a high chance of coming home.
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Chukwueze can’t stop dazzling
After coming off the bench to sparking effect in the comeback 3-2 win against Cameroon last time out, fans called for coach Gernot Rohr to start the Villarreal wideman against South Africa, and he certainly heeded to their call. The result was him playing to his best again and scored the all-important first goal which set the tone of the match in Nigeria’s favour. He played the entire 90 minutes, and it’s clear his presence will always give the Super Eagles the momentum. At this stage, he should be an indispensable starter. Hopefully, Rohr realises that.
No Akpeyi weakness for Bafana
A worry ahead of this match was Daniel Akpeyi starting. Though he has been the preferred choice in Egypt, he has not been really exceptional between the sticks. Plying his trade in the South African Premier Soccer League with Kaizer Chiefs, there were concerns his weakness will be exposed as a number of the Bafana players are his teammates. He has also faced other South Africans in competitive club games, hence the knowledge about him would be a big advantage for Stuart Baxter’s side. It however didn’t materialise at Cairo International Stadium as South Africa failed to test the former Chippa United shot-stopper. The victory also emphasised Nigeria have the superior edge over the 1996 Afcon champions in competitive tournaments, and no perceived team flaw or weakness can change that.
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VAR finally works for Africa
The Video Assistant Referee system has been marred by controversy since introduced by Caf last year. This brought its use at the ongoing Afcon into serious question, especially after a myriad of refereeing complaints at the just-concluded Copa America. Two matches in and the system has been very fair, first correctly ruling out two Sadio Mane goals for offside against Benin Republic, and then rightly giving South Africa the equaliser against Nigeria after the linesman had ruled for offside. Such correct calls are what Africa wants to see and should the referees judge more fairly henceforth, it will change the tide of bad officiating which is often associated with the continent.
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Afcon crowds still large despite Egypt exit
The shock exit of Afcon hosts and record title holders, Egypt, to South Africa in the Round of 16 was perceived to reduce attendance and interest in the competition. It was however far from seen at Cairo International Stadium, where fans of both South Africa and Nigeria trooped out in their large numbers to support their respective teams. Some of the Egyptian locals donned the jerseys of the respective two teams also. It’s an indication that interest remains high in the tournament.
Leave Rohr to tinker
Media pressure and scrutiny has not been far from Gernot Rohr ever since he took the Super Eagles back in August 2016. He has been heavily criticised from his squad selections, tactical setup and use of substitutes. His decision to start Jamilu Collins on Wednesday night ahead of Ola Aina was questioned, likewise his decision to let an ineffective Odion Ighalo play the entire 90 minutes, without giving minutes to Victor Osimhen or Henry Onyekuru – who are yet to kick a ball in Egypt. Even Rohr’s decision to bring on Moses Simon was criticised, but it was from his corner William Troost-Ekong scored a minute from time. It’s no doubt that Rohr is stubborn, but it’s best he is left to decide whatever he pleases. Rohr looks very well on his way to claim his first international title, and should it happen, all criticism against him will matter less.