AFCON decisive stages: Analyzing Nigeria’s semi-final encounter against South Africa

Both teams are coming into this encounter with a strong defensive show in the championship, with the two teams keeping four clean sheets in four consecutive games in the AFCON


The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is heading towards its decisive stage, with Nigeria set to face off with Bafana Bafana of South Africa in the semi-final on Wednesday.

Both teams are coming into this encounter with a strong defensive show in the championship, with the two teams keeping four clean sheets in four consecutive games in the AFCON.

The Super Eagles are the most experienced team at this stage, making their 16th appearance in the AFCON since their debut in Ghana in 1963, reaching the last four without playing extra time.

South Africa had already taken the scalps of Tunisia and Morocco, but the win over Cape Verde is of much significance as they seal a semi-final spot for the first time in 24 years.

Last time out in the similar semi-final encounter in 2000 in Lagos, Nigeria humbled Bafana Bafana 2-0.

In the last 20 years, Nigeria have dominated this fixture with the most victories in their 11 meetings so far. The Super Eagles have had six wins, drawn four, and recorded one loss.

Road to the Semis:
° Draw Equatorial Guinea 1-1
° Defeat Ivory Coast 1-0
° Defeat Guinea Bissau 1-0
° Defeat Cameroon 2-0
° Defeat Angola 1-0
South Africa
° Lose to Mali 2-0
° Defeat Namibia 4-0
° Draw Tunisia 0-0
° Defeat Morocco 2-0

° Draw Cape Verde 0-0 (won on penalties 2-1)

Tactical Analysis
Bafana Bafana have played three different formations in five games in the championship in Ivory Coast, playing 4-4-2 and 4-2-2-2 in the games against Mali and Namibia, respectively.

The South African coach Hugo Broos switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation in his last three games, which is aimed at dominating the midfield and restricting opponents from accessing central spaces between the lines.

This formation was effective against the World Cup semi-finalists, Morocco and Tunisia.

The tactical formation of the South African team consists of four defenders, consisting of two central defenders and two full-backs.

Two deeper central midfielders operate ahead of the back line and are often referred to as a double pivot. Further forward, an attacking midfielder plays behind a lone centre-forward.

With the Super Eagles momentum on the ascendency with the 3-4-3 formation, winning four consecutive games, and scoring five goals without conceding, the possibility of Jose Peseiro switching his formation or changing players is slim.

The defence of the Super Eagles will have to be dogged to block zone 14 of the teams against the high-flying Themba Zwane and Teboho Mokoena.

The defenders and defensive midfielders of the Nigerian team should also avoid silly fouls close to the 18-yard box, as Hugo Broos men have the capability to punish any team from set pieces.

The midfield duo of Alex Iwobi and Frank Onyeaka must be disciplined technically and tactically to cut out the passing lanes of the Bafana Bafana and distort their rhythm and synergy.

With South Africa committing six to seven men when transiting from defence to attack, the wingbacks of Ola Aina and Zaidu Sanusi and the inside forwards of Lookman and Simon should be swift and precise with their decision-making in the final third.

One of the advantages of the Super Eagles playing 3-4-3 against South Africa is that it will restrict the fluid movement of Bafana Bafana from midfield to Nigeria’s defensive third.

Due to the fact that the wing backs, slotting into full back positions will make it a back five.

Broos noted that after their 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea in their first group game, Nigeria have been improving game by game.

The South African gaffer named Osimhen and Lookman as the most dangerous outlets in the Nigerian side who can make a difference and bundle his team out of the tournament.

Speaking to sports reporters after the victory over Cape Verde, Broos said: “Nigeria is a team that has become better and better every game, so when I saw them playing, it’s again a very good team with a very good striker.

“There are also a few good players like the one who scored the goal, Lookman, a very good player, so we have to analyze a little bit more now because we didn’t at the time.”

The South African coach is the only remaining manager who has tasted AFCON glory before. He will be aiming to become the second manager, after Herve Renard, to win the trophy with two different national teams.

Before his success with Cameroon in 2017, the 71-year-old enjoyed a successful managerial career in his native Belgium. He coached Club Brugge and Anderlecht, winning three top-flight titles and six domestic cups.

Team News
Nigeria could lose Simon, Ola Aina, or Calvin Bassey to suspensions in a possible final if anyone among the trio is booked on Wednesday.

At the risk of missing out on a potential final for South Africa are Aubrey Modiba, Grant Kekana, and Mothobi Mvala following their yellow cards against Morocco in the round of 16.

Nigeria’s possible starting lineup:
Nwabali; Ajayi, Troost-Ekong, Bassey, Aina, Onyeka, Iwobi, Sanusi, Simon, Lookman, Osimhen

South Africa’s possible starting lineup:
Williams, Mudau, Kekana, Mvala, Modiba, Mokoena, Sithole, Morena, Zwane, Tau, Makgopa

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