AFCON 2023: How South Africa Can Beat Nigeria as Semi Final Clash Looms

AFCON 2023: How South Africa Can Beat Nigeria as Semi Final Clash Looms

Martin Moses
updated at February 13, 2024 at 11:54 AM
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South Africa
South Africa
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Mamelodi Sundowns
South Africa
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V. Osimhen
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  • Nigeria will take on South Africa in one of the two AFCON 2023 semi-finals
  • The Super Eagles will be favourites to book their place in the Sunday final
  • Sports Brief analyses some of the areas where South Africa can hurt Nigeria

A Nigeria versus South Africa semi-final meet-up wasn't a clash many expected to be on the cards for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

But after a lot of interesting twists, giants falling, minnows rising, and the hosts literally using all of their nine lives - here we are.

The Super Eagles are set to entertain Bafana Bafana in the Stade de la Paix in Bouake in the first semi-final on February 7.

Jose Peseiro, Hugo Broos, South Africa vs Nigeria, Victor Osimhen, AFCON 2023
Hugo Broos celebrates with Ronwen Williams after South Africa beat Cape Verde on February 3. Photo by Franck Fife.
Source: Getty Images

The Super Eagles walk into this fixture as favourites, though not overwhelming, by virtue of their squad strength and FIFA rankings.

In fact, of the four teams remaining in Ivory Coast, the onus will be on Jose Peseiro's charges to go all the way and lift a fourth title.

How South Africa can beat Nigeria in AFCON 2023

But pedigree, rankings and star-studded squads have counted for little at this year's edition. Ahead of this contest, we look at the possible ways South Africa, the perceived underdogs, can hurt Nigeria.

1. Hugo Broos masterplan

Hugo Broos is the only remaining coach who has literally 'been there, did that.' He won his first AFCON title with Cameroon in 2017 and seven years later, he hopes to join Herve Renard as the only coach to do it with two different nations.

One striking similarity between his Cameroon and South Africa teams is that both were unfancied, but somehow, he managed to get maximum results. His awareness of the strength of his squad and what the opponent has to offer makes him a tough customer to deal with.

For instance, after the 2-0 walloping against Mali in their opening game, Broos brought in Grant Kekana for the following game and Bafana Bafana haven't conceded since.

The Belgian has turned a nation that hadn't reached the last four of AFCON in 24 years, into a group of believers. So evident was this that after Ronwen Williams' penalty-saving heroics against Cape Verde, the Masandawana goalkeeper made a beeline for no one else but his manager as everyone milled around them.

2. The Mamelodi Sundowns factor

The major issue for national team coaches is often the lack of adequate time to drill in their tactics to their players. But luckily for Broos and South Africa, eight of the 11 starters all play for the Premier League Soccer giants.

The players have transferred their winning mentality at club level to the national side, with their understanding evident in the games so far. Perhaps Rhulani Mokwena deserves some credit as well, no?

This 'tactic' lifted Spain to the top of world and European football between 2008 and 2012, where they won every available silverware to them. Vicente Del Bosque's squad was primarily made of Barcelona and Real Madrid players.

3. Midfield battle

One of Nigeria's pre-tournament issues was who Peseiro would deploy in the middle of the pack after Wilfried Ndidi's injury. Alhassan Yussuf started against Equatorial Guinea before Frank Onyeka played deep in subsequent games.

While Peseiro's plans have excelled so far, they will come up against the immovable pairing of Sphephelo Sithole and Mokoena, whose industry has made the Bafana engine room tick.

4. Peseiro's overreliance on same players

Peseiro has stuck mainly with an unchanged starting XI since the start of the competition. He has barely had a look-in at his bench until past the 80th minute where he rungs up a couple of changes.

Against Angola, the squad looked famished, with Osimhen jaded as he came off in stoppage time. The temperature levels in Ivory Coast haven't helped either, but against a team that can take them to extra time and penalties, Peseiro will need to freshen up his squad to maintain the energy levels.

Editor note: Osimhen is now a doubt to face South Africa after the Super Eagles camp confirmed he was suffering from abdominal discomfort.

5. Set-pieces

Both teams cancel each other out in terms of strong defences; therefore, it will be down to the nitty-gritty to breach the backlines.

Nigeria has had no success from corner kicks and free kicks so far despite possessing Osimhen's aerial threat. South Africa's Teboho Mokoena, meanwhile, scored a beauty past the best goalkeeper in the continent, Yassine Bounou.

There is no doubt that it will be a game of fine margins. On paper, Nigeria should sail through but on account of the aforementioned factors, South Africa has the wherewithal to pull off a surprise. Only that a big team exiting AFCON 2023 should no longer be surprising at this point.

Why Nigeria are AFCON 2023 favourites

On the flip side, Sports Brief has also previously reported on why Nigeria are AFCON 2023 favourites.

After the eliminations of Senegal, Egypt, and Morocco, the Super Eagles are the highest-ranked nation.

From Osimhen's threat to a solid backline, the West Africans have what it takes to win the competition.

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Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)
Hugo BroosRonwen Williams