WHEN the Super Eagles take on Bafana Bafana in an international friendly at Mbombela Stadium on Sunday, you can be sure Nigerian fans will come in their numbers to torment the home supporters.
But Shakes Mashaba’s boys face a Nigeria eager to erase the pain they suffered at Akwa Ibom Stadium, in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match last year.
Bafana were on the brink of making history against the Super Eagles, but a collapse towards the end of the game allowed the African giants to come back from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw, which denied the visitors the victory they still crave over the enemy.
Bafana go into the game after a victory, the side registering a 3-1 win over Swaziland on Wednesday at Somhlolo Stadium, thanks to goals by Thulani Hlatshwayo, Thabo Mnyamane and Mandla Masango.
But Mashaba was concerned about his side’s defence. ‘‘They really came at us and the goal they scored — my defence did not do well, we should have defended better,” the coach said after the game.
Nigeria, who were beaten 1-0 by Uganda in a friendly on Wednesday, have been struggling for consistent form since getting knocked out of the Fifa World Cup last year, but they have proven before that they do not have to be at their best to beat Bafana.
They have got a score to settle with Bafana, who denied them a chance to defend their Africa Cup of Nations title in Equatorial Guinea this year, with that draw last year. Andile Jali, Rivaldo Coetzee, Siyabonga Nhlapo, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Sibusiso Khumalo — players who did not feature against Swaziland — are likely to start on Sunday.
Bafana gave up the chance of a rare victory over Nigeria last November when they let a late two-goal lead slip by in Uyo, but they can scarcely have a better opportunity to defeat the Super Eagles than this Sunday’s meeting.
A Tokelo Rantie brace had SA in charge in their Africa Cup of Nations qualifier late last year, before a now-familiar habit of conceding late goals saw them have to settle for a 2-2 draw.
A deflated Nigeria arrive in Johannesburg on Friday after a home loss to Uganda, another sign of the decline of the West African side. It means Bafana have a chance to improve their dismal record against Nigeria, having managed just a single victory in their past 11 meetings.
The Super Eagles have outscored Bafana 21-5 in that time. Nigeria’s seven victories and three draws in 23 years have been a painful reminder of the gulf in class between the two nations for much of that time. SA were handed a football lesson in their first meeting with Nigeria, which came just months after readmission into international football in 1992.
The Super Eagles won 4-0 in Lagos in front of 70,000 fans and should really have scored a lot more. SA then escaped with a 0-0 draw in the return match in Johannesburg, in January 1993.
It was not until the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations semifinals that the teams would meet again, and Nigeria had the upper hand once more on home soil in Lagos, winning 2-0.
Four years later and there was another match-up in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations pool stages, but it would end in defeat again for SA as Nigeria romped to a 4-0 win in Tunisia, just days after Mashaba was sacked from his first spell of being permanently in charge of the side.
Later that year came some joy at last for Bafana fans, as they beat a depleted Nigeria 2-1 in the 2004 Nelson Mandela Challenge at Ellis Park. It was one of the highlights of Stuart Baxter’s reign as coach.
After that, unfortunately, normal service resumed when the teams met in the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations.
Ike Uche, recently returned to the side after an absence of two years, and Obinna Nwaneri scored in a comfortable Super Eagles victory in a steamy Lagos in June 2008, before Uche was again on target in the return fixture in Port Elizabeth as Nigeria won 1-0 a few months later.
Nigeria defeated Bafana 2-0 in the Nelson Mandela Challenge in 2013, before their 3-1 victory in the African Nations Championship finals a few months later.
SA’s last home meeting with the Super Eagles was in Cape Town in September last year, in the Cup of Nations qualifiers, when they were full value for a 0-0 draw and probably should have won the game.