Nigeria and South Africa once again clash at the Africa Cup of Nations as the 2018 finalists take their rivalry to new heights in Rabat. The two favourites know that it isn’t do or die yet, but know that topping the Group C will set them up for success. Kick off 18:00 BST.
Super Falcons going for ten
The three times back to back champions come into the tournament as the favourites to grab their record extending ten tournaments. Nigeria are the only team at the tournament who have one the game, and have a target on their backs.
The team comes into the tournament under greater pressure than ever before. With anything less than winning the tournament seen as failure, the Super Falcons are no longer blowing away all before them on the continental stage.
Since winning the previous edition of the WAFCON in 2018, they were knocked out of Olympics qualifying by fellow West Africans Ivory Coast. They followed that up last year by losing the Aisha Buhari Cup on home soil to South Africa.
But those defeats have not been enough to knock them from their perch as strong favourites for the tournament. They have brought in seasoned American Randy Waldrum as well as bringing through a new generation of players like Ashleigh Plumptre (Leicester City and Rasheedat Ajibade (Atletico Madrid) to bolster their experienced squad.
Banyana Banyana hungry for revenge
For the first time in their history, Nigeria have come up against an African opponent who have risen to the challenge of playing the Super Falcons. Prior to 2018 South Africa had played Nigeria over 15 times, only coming away with one victory in 2012 (captain Janine Van Wyk scoring the only goal of the game). But since 2018 they have faced off three times, Banyana Banyana coming out on top twice and their only loss coming on penalties in the final four years ago.
Coach Desiree Ellis has built a very strong unit since her arrival as head coach in 2016, leading her side to not only a final against Nigeria, but also to their first ever World Cup in 2019. She has also brought about a style of football that suites Banyana. In a continent dominated by power and physicality, Ellis has developed a style of football that suits her, “short team.”
And that style was on show in the last couple of appearances against the Super Falcons. In 2018 South Africa dominated the final and were in truth unlucky not to come away with the title. In 2021 they blew away the Super Falcons in the Aisha Buhari Cup, racing into a 3-0 lead before being pegged back to 4-2.
But what Nigeria have that South Africa doesn’t is experience in winning the AFCON. That was on show in 2018 where they won not one, but two back-to-back penalty shoot outs to retain their crowns.
The rivalry between the two behemoths is not limited to the teams. Asisat Oshoala and Thembi Kgatlana have proved themselves to be the two most deadly forwards in African football and both hold iconic status back home.
Oshoala has long been the most dominant forward in Africa. The Barcelona Femeni Striker was player of the tournament in 2014 and top scorer in 2016. But in 2018, Kgatlana stole both crowns as she scored five goals, including the winner against the Super Falcons in the group stage.
Both now ply their trade in La Liga, as Kgatlana now plays for Atletico Madrid, but it is on the continental stage where their rivalry manifests itself. Both players will be looking at this first fixture as a chance to once again stamp their authority on Africa.
What they said
Nigeria head coach Randy Waldrum:
“I feel very confident with where we are and with our preparation. We understand the challenge in front of us. We understand Nigeria is the team to beat. We will get everybody’s best game and we just have to be prepared for that and I think we are.”
Super Falcons captain Onome Ebi:
“For me and my teammates. We are 100% ready for the game. We know it’s not going to be easy because playing against South Africa is always tough. So we are expecting it to be tough.”
Banyana Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis:
“The first game of the tournament is always the biggest game. And it makes it even bigger because it’s Nigeria, the defending champions. I think because it’s Nigeria the game is bigger than it is supposed to be. We want to start well. And we know it’s going to be a very tough encounter, no quarter given, because they are a top side. They aren’t the champions of Africa for nothing.”