Three-time champions Nigeria have arrived in the Egyptian capital, Cairo ahead of Wednesday’s potentially explosive AFCON 2019 quarter-final clash with 1996 champions South Africa at the Cairo International Stadium.
The Super Eagles, who conquered defending champions Cameroon in the Round of 16 in a game played in Alexandria on Saturday, have taken abode at the posh Meridien Heliopolis in one of the largest cities on the African continent.
On Sunday, following the decimation of the Indomitable Lions, the Eagles had a recovery training and then generally retired to their Helnan Palestine Hotel in Alexandria to relax for the day.
Coach Gernot Rohr has said his charges are very much looking forward to Wednesday night’s clash, which brings together, once more, two teams who were involved in the same group in the qualifying campaign.
Both teams met at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo on 10th June 2017, with the Bafana Bafana inflicting a painful 2-0 defeat on a half-strength Nigeria side in the first match of the qualification phase. In the return in Johannesburg on 17th November 2018, the Eagles dominated and were denied two apparent goals by the referee in a 1-1 draw, which ultimately earned them a berth in the AFCON 2019 with a match to spare.
Rohr is not one to forget sharp pains inflicted by lower-ranked teams, and the fury of what happened in Uyo on 10th June 2017 – his first loss as Eagles’ manager in a competitive match – could be deduced in the way he spoke on arrival in Cairo, though he insisted that Nigeria is not thinking of revenge but simply a place in the semi-finals.
“We are here to win. It is not going to be an easy match, but surely if you have to win the Africa Cup, you will not expect to be faced with easy matches at this stage. We know ourselves from the qualifying campaign and it will be no holds –barred on Wednesday. It is not a matter of revenge; it is about reaching the semi-finals.”
Nigeria’s army includes three members of the squad that won the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa in 2013, namely defender Kenneth Omeruo, midfielder and skipper Mikel John Obi and forward and deputy skipper Ahmed Musa. They trained at the Shams Club on Monday evening.
There is also forward Odion Jude Ighalo, who topped the scorers’ chart in the AFCON 2019 qualifying race with seven goals and is joint top scorer in the ongoing finals with three goals, alongside Senegalese Sadio Mane. Indeed, Ighalo’s man-of-the-match performance was the tonic the Eagles needed to overcome the Cup holders on Saturday.
There is also goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi, who turns out for South African Premier Soccer League side Kaizer Chiefs. He has not had many opportunities with the senior team but is number one at the ongoing finals.