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AFCON semi-finals: Nigeria v South Africa preview

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The 2023 AFCON semi-finals commence as the star-studded Nigeria come up against one of the tournaments many surprise packages: South Africa at 17:00 GMT at the Stade de la Paix in Bouaké.

Image credit: Ben Sutherland

The case for Nigeria

Nigeria come into the game as strong favourites.

The Super Eagles have been close to immaculate in the tournament so far, conceding just one goal throughout.

That was in the opening game against Equatorial Guinea in which they lined up with a back four, but since then manager José Peseiro switched to a 5-2-3 formation and they haven’t conceded a goal in the four matches since.

This includes victories over Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau and Cameroon as well as Angola most recently in the quarter-finals.

After worries about an abdominal issue, Victor Osimhen has been passed fit for the match against South Africa.

Super Eagles fans will be hoping that he can start converting his chances though, as he is the biggest under-performer of xG in the tournament so far.

The Napoli star has had 19 shots but only scored one goal, and he couldn’t miss that one after being put on a plate by a sublime Ademola Lookman cross.

Lookman has been Nigeria’s best player and arguably the player of the tournament. He has scored three goals in the last two games, and also provided the previously mentioned assist for Osimhen in the opening game.

This puts him joint third in the top-scorers list but more importantly his contributions have put Nigeria in the semi-final.

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Other than Osimhen and Lookman’s goals, a William-Troost Ekong penalty is the only other Nigeria goal scored in the tournament.

Nigeria’s fortunes may came down to whether Osimhen can take the goal-scoring burden off Lookman’s shoulders and deliver when it matters the most.

Michael Thomas

The case for South Africa

Under the leadership of Belgian coach Hugo Broos, who won AFCON in 2017 with Cameroon, and goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, a specialist in penalty shootouts, the South African national team is making a comeback in this edition.

Champions of Africa in 1996, runner-up in 1998, and third in 2000, South Africa is returning to challenge the top teams and aspires to reach the final. However, the “Bafana Bafana” national team must be strong and have the upper hand against Nigeria, a historical rival in direct encounters.

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In 12 previous games across various tournaments, South Africa have won only once, while Nigeria secured 7 victories, and 4 matches ended in draws. The last encounter between the two teams was in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, with Nigeria winning 2-1.

With 8 starting players representing the same club, Mamelodi Sundowns, one of the top teams in Africa, Bafana Bafana adopts a collective style that relies on quick ball exchange, especially in the final third of the field. This approach creates intense pressure on the opponent, often resulting in positional errors that players like Mothobi Mvala’s teammates constantly try to exploit to score goals.

The fast and unexpected counterattack will be one of the keys for the Belgian coach, seeking to unlock the solid Nigerian defense and surprise them with an early goal, possibly disrupting their plans and enhancing South Africa’s chances of reaching the dream final.

According to Opta statistics, South Africa has increased its chances from 2.1% at the beginning of the tournament to become the third-favorite among the remaining four teams with a percentage of 18.6%.

Mohammad Joseph

Authors

  • Michael Thomas

    Sports writer, cricket fan (emphasis on fan, not expert) and self-pitying West Bromwich Albion supporter. Always open to researching and writing about different topics.

  • Mohammad Joseph

    Mohammad, 23, is a trilingual Palestinian born and raised in Jerusalem, that always brags about being from the same “birthplace of the legendary Jesus Christ”. An aspiring sports journalist, previously having experience in the marketing world now looking to achieve his dreams of covering the sports he loves, from football to athletics to mixed martial arts. He is the co-social media editor for the Sports Gazette.