Key figures from South Africa’s lone Africa Cup of Nations title triumph in 1996 believe the current Bafana Bafana side can defeat Nigeria in the 2024 semi-finals on Wednesday if they take the game to their opponents.
Former captain Neil Tovey and goalscorer Mark Williams said the clash in Bouake will be “tough” given Nigeria’s pedigree in the competition, including three past victories over South Africa.
Nigeria are favourites for the clash in Bouake for several reasons, including a perfect record against Bafana Bafana in past Africa Cup of Nations matches.
The Super Eagles defeated South Africa 2-0 in the 2000 semi-finals in Nigeria, 4-0 in a 2004 group game in Tunisia, and 2-1 in the 2019 quarter-finals in Egypt through a late winner from current captain William Troost-Ekong.
But the two legends believe coach Hugo Broos’ philosophy of aggressive, attacking football gives Bafana a chance at victory.
They believe this Bafana team can break Nigeria’s hold over them if they take the game to their opponents.
“It is going to be very tough against Nigeria — a final before the final,” Tovey told AFP in a telephone interview from the South African port city of Durban.
“We have suffered many defeats against them, starting with a four-goal mauling in a 1994 World Cup qualifier. More recently, however, the tide has begun to turn.
“What we dare not do in Bouake is retreat into a defensive shell. That would be playing into the hands of the Nigerians.
“South Africa must approach the match in a similar manner to the game against Morocco — defend in depth when necessary but also apply pressure.”
“Having eight Mamelodi Sundowns players in the starting lineup helps a lot. You can see the players know each other very well.
In a tournament riddled with upsets, one of the biggest was South Africa winning 2-0 against 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco in a last-16 encounter.
Tovey says he is impressed with South Africa, who have reached the Cup of Nations semi-finals for the first time since the loss to co-hosts Nigeria 24 years ago.
“They are not trying to be clever — they are well organised and perform the basics well. Every player understands his role.
“Take the crucial final group match against Tunisia, which could have eliminated Bafana had they lost. It ended 0-0, but I was impressed with our game management.”
Meanwhile Mark Williams, who scored both goals in South Africa’s 1996 triumph, pointed to the current team’s strong team spirit, forged at Mamelodi Sundowns, as a key strength.
“When you have a mix of local and foreign-based players there can be initial misunderstandings. Also, (Egypt-based) Percy Tau is a former Sundowns star,” he said.
“Make no mistake, it is not going to be easy against Nigeria. They have always had extremely skilful players and the likes of (Victor) Osimhen and (Ademola) Lookman are continuing the tradition.
“But our boys, although not as well known, are also skilful. Mentality is key — we have to walk on to the pitch believing we are going to win.”
Both legends were impressed by Bafana’s surprise 2-0 win over Morocco in the last 16, with Tovey praising their “well organised” approach and Williams saying they showed belief.
Tovey and Williams predict hosts Ivory Coast will see off DR Congo in the other semi-final. Victory for Bafana would put them into their first final since 1996, when Williams’ double sunk Tunisia.