INSIDE AFCON 2019: A Brief History of the Nigeria-South Africa Nations Cup Rivalry

Balogun Leon Aderemi of Nigeria challenged by Lebo Mothiba of South Africa during the 2019 African Cup of Nations Qualifier match between South Africa and Nigeria at FNB Stadium, Johannesburg on 17 November 2018 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

After winning their second AFCON title in Tunisia in 1994, Nigeria failed to turn up to defend their title in South Africa two years later, stopped on the orders of military dictator Sani Abacha. South Africa won the championship, but Nigeria insisted the Bafana Bafana were no authentic champions having not faced the firepower of the Super Eagles.

Barred from the 1998 finals as a result of their boycott of the 1996 competition, Nigeria returned in 2000 as co-host, and in the semi-finals, Tijani Babangida scooped two quick goals to douse tension and condemned the Bafana to the third-place match as the Eagles marched into the Final.

Four years later, in Tunisia, it was an incensed Eagles that confronted Bafana in their second match of the group phase, as Morocco had stolen Nigeria’s thunder in their first game. The result was a 4-0 spanking, including a brace by Osaze Odemwingie.

When Nigeria won its third African title in South Africa six years ago, the paths of both teams did not cross.

However, it is a new day and a different stage at the Cairo International on Wednesday night, as Bafana have quiet confidence and steel from their stunning elimination of host nation and seven-time AFCON champions Egypt on Saturday night.

“It is a big match, no doubt. But we know what we have to do and we will do just that. Beating the defending champions has given us the confidence that we can all the way here,” said skipper Mikel Obi, who has announced that this would be his last AFCON expedition.

Indeed, Saturday’s feat was the sixth time in history that Nigeria would be ejecting the Cup holders from the Africa Cup of Nations, and each time they did, they had gone ahead to finish on the podium – either as champions, runners –up or bronze medal winners.

In 1976 when they beat Cup holders Zaire (now DR Congo) in Ethiopia, Nigeria won bronze. In 1984, after beating Ghana in Côte d’Ivoire, they finished with the silver medals, and in 1994, they emerged champions after eliminating Côte d’Ivoire in the semifinals in Tunisia.

In 2004, the Eagles picked up the bronze medals after a sweet defeat of Cameroon in the quarterfinals in Tunisia, and two years later, were again worth the bronze medals after penalty shoot-out defeat of Tunisia in the quarterfinals in Egypt.