South Africa’s victory was a long way coming
Nigeria was expected to whitewash South Africa on Saturday when they met in an African Nations Cup qualifier. The postulations was that South Africa, which had not beaten Nigeria in a competitive meeting before then, would not do it against a team that had been preparing for the encounter in France for a better part of one month. Besides, South Africa’s Coach, Stuart Baxter, was barely two weeks on the job and would not have had enough time to assemble a quality opposition against the Super Eagles. And the game would happen in Nigeria.
Unknown to Nigerians, Baxter and the South African Football Association (SAFA) had been busy plotting how to beat the Super Eagles, while Gernot Rohr and his team were playing meaningless friendlies with players, who would eventually not feature in the AFCON qualifier.
Most Super Eagles supporters did not also know that their team had been put at a disadvantage by NFF’s inability to provide the official match balls for their training sessions and the match proper.
The situation resulted in Nigeria borrowing South Africa’s ball for the game on match day.
A Super Eagles player, who pleaded anonymity, said after the game that the match balls affected them so much that they had problems controlling and running with it because of its ‘strange bounce.’
He said that all through their camping in France, they trained with Nigerian balls not knowing that there were special ball made for such games.
“We spent two weeks training and playing games with balls different from the ones that were used yesterday against South Africa.
“The balls used were brought by the South Africans as our officials had not taken possession of the CAF match balls sent to Nigeria since January. The ball didn’t help us,” he said.
The player also faulted the idea of experimenting with players a month before a crucial encounter against South Africa, say, “we did not show any respect to our opponents.
“Some of the players that featured against South Africa trained with us for less than four days.
“We were in France playing friendlies with such countries as Corsica and Togo without some of our regulars. Our goalkeeper did not train with us in France and it showed in the lack of cohesion in the defence,” he lamented.
South African Coach, Stuart Baxter, who described the win as emotional and special, explained he knew what to expect from Nigeria.
He had earlier before the game predicted that the Bafana Bafana would win if Nigeria failed to score in the first 20 minutes.
“The long trip to West Africa, the short preparation period and then go into the match and completely outplay the home favourites is something special.
Baxter – who was appointed last month on a five-year deal – only linked up with his squad last Monday.
South African striker, Tau, who scored his team’s second moments after coming in, said he was surprised that his coach knew Nigeria inside out.
“I am surprised that nobody saw me before the ball got to me from Nigeria’s defence. From our tactics in defending corners‚ that’s where I was supposed to be. And catch them in a quick counter. And that’s what happened.”
Tau, who replaced Tokelo Rantie, added: “The coach told me that I should just work as hard as Tokelo did‚ and keep the high line‚ rather than dropping off and looking to play.”
Seldom has a Bafana team been as quietly confident of a victory against Nigeria as in Baxter’s first game of his second tenure as Bafana coach.
“For sure – we did (believe we could win)‚“ Tau said.
Asked why‚ he replied: “The squad and the preparations.”
The result was a big blow for three-time African champions, Nigeria, who failed to qualify for the last two Nations Cup finals.
Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr said his side would learn from this defeat.
“South Africa were better than us and we lost as a team,” Rohr admitted.
“It was a difficult game for my young team with an average age of 23 against a team who are now unbeaten in 18 matches.
“We are unhappy about this loss but we will take some positives from this,” said Rohr.