The Nigeria vs South Africa Game is Really About Cameroon…


Nigeria will face South Africa in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier in Uyo on Saturday. Meetings between The Super Eagles and Bafana Bafana used to have an (unwritten) agreement: they show up, and Nigeria defeats them. Until recently. Now the boys are flexing; the last three games all ended in draws, and South Africa actually led 2-0 at a point the last time they were in Uyo. So, this game is important. But there are bigger fishes to fry ahead. The truth is, as important as this game is, it is actually more of a dress rehearsal for the World Cup qualifier against Cameroon.

South Africa are important, but they are not that important in the scheme of things. Yep, Bafana Bafana led 2-0 in Uyo in November 2014, big deal. Nigeria also led in Nelspruit until Bongani Zunga scored in the 93rd minute. And they are yet to defeat Nigeria in a competitive game. No matter how hyped-up the South Africans are, they know the Eagles can still beat them anywhere, the truth is…

Heavens will not fall, no matter what happens in this game. This is because it is the first of a six-game qualifier. And even if the worst happens and by a miracle, South Africa get a good result, Super Eagles will still have enough games left in the qualifiers to recover. In fact, whatever result the Eagles get in Uyo, the team will quickly move on. Not only because they can win the reverse fixture, but simply because…

The (likely) truth is that Gernot Rohr is using this game as a test case. It’s really a simple conclusion to arrive at: Nigeria will face Cameroon in a win-or-go-home encounter early in August, then face them again four days later in a do-or-die affair. August is a long way away, and we have seen what injuries can do to a team. Cue long range plan: go on a massive recruiting drive, then blood and blend the team as soon as possible. Corsica are not bad, and Togo may be stubborn, but they weren’t competitive matches. With the chance that the Eagles will not get a ‘tough game’ before Cameroon come calling…South Africa would have to do as the tough-match-test-case.

The depleted Eagles will mature fast against a desperate Bafana Bafana. And that may just be the whole point of it. Rohr did not plan the injuries to Mikel and Carl Ikeme, but he saw an opportunity and could be using it. South Africa are here with their A-game. This knocked-together-Eagles have their work cut out, the end result will be a group more hardened, and near-ready for the Lions test (just in case!): a loss will make them desperate, a win will boost their confidence. Either way, it’s a win.

Many of the Super Eagles have played in tough matches, but some of the faces are new to the brutal battle ahead. The absence of the Number 1 goalkeeper, one of the central defensive pairs, team captain and a couple of experienced forwards mean Gernot Rohr is winging it. But the World Cup is bigger than Nations Cup, and this is the perfect game to try out new talent.

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