South Africa vs. Nigeria: Key battles to look out for

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With a place in Cameroon 2019 on the line, Goal looks at some of the key battles to look out for ahead of the eagerly anticipated Group E fixture

With just two games remaining in their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations campaign, there's still a lot to play for as South Africa come up against Nigeria this coming weekend.

Excitement, tension and perhaps even disappointment is expected as the two sleeping giants of African football will battle it out for supremacy and a plane ticket to Cameroon. 

The Super Eagles will know all too well what is at stake as they lock horns with Bafana Bafana considering their historic dominance but they will also be keen on redemption as they were beaten 2-0 by the Southern African nation earlier in the campaign.

That defeat would have hurt Nigeria, who have since gone on to make an appearance at the 2018 Fifa World Cup and currently top the Group E standings.

This only adds to the premise on which the game is being played on, meaning that the battles on the field are worth looking out for.

Nonetheless, aside from the obvious tactical battle between Bafana coach Stuart Baxter and his opposite number Gernot Rohr, Goal looks at some of the key match-ups on the field that fans can look forward to.

South Africa v Nigeria PS  


Itumeleng Khune v Odion Ighalo 


Itumeleng Khune Bafana Bafana v Libya, September 2018

A battle between Bafana’s No.1 and Nigeria’s number one hitman is a battle to cherish.

The former Watford and now China-based forward has netted six goals in the qualifiers.

However, more often than not, Itumeleng Khune has been Bafana’s sole defender at the back.

There are few goalkeepers on the continent more reliable than Khune, but the Nigerian forward’s pace and power could be a real test for Khune.

The Kaizer Chiefs keeper will also need to ensure that he communicates effectively with his defence as Ighalo is an ‘old school’ forward waiting to pounce.

Khune though has an abundance of experience and will know the margin for error is extremely narrow. Khune is yet to concede in the current campaign - he has kept four clean sheets thus far.


Lebo Mothiba v Leon Balogun 


Lebogang Mothiba, South Africa

Undoubtedly one of the most intriguing battles will be between South Africa’s newest attacking sensation and the Brighton & Hove Albion defender.

Just like Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo, Lebo Mothiba is a formidable attacker in the mould of English great Alan Shearer, according to his coach.

Baxter has often said that the French Ligue 1-based marksman is not a typical South African attacker, and that may just be the surprise element that Bafana need to do the double over Nigeria.

Without the likes of Tokelo Rantie, who tore Nigeria to shreds a few years ago, Mothiba will have to fill the void.

The 22-year-old cannot only hold up play with his back towards goal but also has an eye for goal, making him an asset. This could give Balogun something to think about. The Nigerian centre-back has come into his own of late and has been a rock at the back.

Not only has he represented his country at the World Cup earlier this year, but he has been a key member of the squad.

His only blemish will be the fact that he has only made two league appearances for his club, and coming against a striker such as Mothiba could prove tricky.


Ahmed Musa v Thulani Hlatshwayo 


Nigeria v. Argentina - Ahmed Musa

It could be a long night for Bafana Bafana captain Thulani Hlatshwayo should he not bring his ‘A-game’.

Ahmed Musa’s pace has for long tormented opposition defences. Hlatshwayo will hope to not be his latest casualty and will rely on his bullish nature to get the better of the Nigerian attacker.

Musa has already scored two goals in this current campaign, which should see Bafana on high alert and is likely to see Hlatshwayo wary of the danger posed.


Alex Iwobi v Hlompho Kekana 


Bafana Bafana, Hlompho Kekana

With Bafana experiencing a mini-crisis in midfield with many of their first team regulars out. Mamelodi Sundowns captain Hlompho Kekana is expected to lead the midfield battle.

It certainly helps that Kekana is one of the most accomplished players in terms of African football in the side, having helped his club lift the Caf Champions League in recent times, and his engine could be a decisive factor in the middle of the park.

But when it comes to quality midfielders, there are a few more impressive then Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi. The 22-year-old is a box-to-box player, who although is noted for his attacking qualities can also do defensive.

His ability to pick out a pass is most impressive, but with Kekana on the field it could be a battle to remember.

Aside from Kekana’s ability to break down play as well as help out in attack, what sets him apart from the rest of his peers is his shooting ability.

The veteran is known for his long-range strikes, and Iwobi may need to pay close attention to him in order to stop his lethal right-boot.


Thulani Serero v William-Troost Ekong 


William Troost-Ekong, Ola Aina - Nigeria vs. Libya

Lastly, the battle of two European-based players in Serero and William Ekong is another one to look forward to.

Thulani Serero is back in the Bafana fold after patching things up with the national team and is raring to go.

Whether or not Baxter chooses to play him in a No.10 role or on the wing remains to be seen, but what is certain is his undeniable quality.

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Serero is a highly talented and skilful playmaker, who can play out of small spaces. This makes William Ekong’s job very difficult. If the defender is given a start, he will need to marshal Serero and ensure that the dribbling wizard does not get his way in attack. 

Nevertheless, Serero's small stature does see him struggle against more physical opponents, perhaps this is something that Ekong might look to exploit.

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