The Super Eagles of Nigeria are set to go into battle against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in the semi-finals of the 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Wednesday.
The game will be the fourth between Nigeria and South Africa at AFCON level, with the Super Eagles winning the previous three by an aggregate score of 8-1.
Nigeria will be eager to continue their perfect winning run against South Africa at AFCON level and the West African nation has quality players to achieve that.
The Guardian Sports takes a look at three Super Eagles players that can put a permanent end to South Africa’s dream of winning their second AFCON trophy…
Ademola Lookman (Atalanta, Italy)
For the Bafana Bafana of South Africa, the fear of Ademola Lookman will certainly be the beginning of wisdom as they are already aware of what the Atalanta winger is capable of doing.
Lookman has shown that he can wreak havoc on any defence after doing so in two consecutive matches, which saw him scoring against the likes of Cameroon and Angola in the knockout stages.
Before coming up with the goals, he had set up Victor Osimhen to score Nigeria’s equaliser in their 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea in their group A opener back on January 14.
The 26-year-old thereafter hit the back of the net twice to help the Super Eagles defeat Cameroon 2–0 in the round of 16 before scoring the only goal in a 1–0 win over Angola in the quarter-final.
Lookman, after scoring in the win over Angola, became the fourth Nigerian footballer to score three or more goals in the knockout rounds of a single AFCON edition to equal the record of Odion Ighalo, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha and the late Rashidi Yekini.
A lot of people across the world had expected Osimhen to hit the net regularly for the Super Eagles in Ivory Coast, but with Lookman taking up that responsibility, his name has become the first on the lips of Nigerians.
Nigerians now look up to Lookman, who has been delivering for both club and country this season, having had a combined eleven goals and five assists for Nigeria and Atalanta, as the player whose goals will help the Super Eagles win their fourth AFCON title.
Lookman who has now scored 22 goals in 56 overall games for Atalanta, alongside eleven assists, is surely capable of destroying South Africa with his pace, skills, dribbles and eye for goal.
Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France)
Moses Simon has raised his game at the tournament after he was removed early in the second half of Nigeria’s first group match with Equatorial Guinea and benched for the crucial win against hosts Ivory Coast in the second group encounter.
His cross was diverted into the net for Nigeria’s 1-0 win against Guinea Bissau and against Cameroon, he was very important for the team as well.
He made several runs into the Angola penalty area, and one that earned the applause of almost everyone at the stadium was when he beat two Angolan players, but his goal-bound shot was blocked.
Simon created the perfect moment that led to Nigeria’s goal of the game. He was quicker to a slow ball from Zaidu Sanusi and his run into the penalty area, with a well-placed pass for Ademola Lookman, was the moment that pushed Nigeria to the semi-final of the competition.
The 29-year-old who has taken part in every one of FC Nantes’ 17 Ligue 1 matches in 2023/2024, having been selected in the starting XI in all can surely help Nigeria to secure victory against South Africa.
The Nigerian attacker has scored three Ligue 1 goals this campaign while he also ranks joint fifth for assists this season, having set up four goals for his team-mates at Nantes.
Victor Osimhen (Napoli, Italy)
Napoli striker, Victor Osimhen, has maintained his belief in the Super Eagles of Nigeria to go ahead and win the 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Ivory Coast and will seek to devour South Africa.
Osimhen certainly knows what he is saying with the reliable striker having continued to shine for both club and country in the 2023/24 campaign despite picking up an injury earlier this season.
Certainly not one of Osimhen’s best tournament for the Eagles as regards goalscoring, but the attention the best player on the continent has drawn to himself has made him an easy target for teams at the 2023 AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire.
With only one goal so far in five matches, that sums up the level of barricade opposing teams are erecting against the Napoli star man.
He is, however, pivotal for the Eagles, in the sense that he draws defenders to himself, creating spaces for other attacking players to pounce, like what Lookman has been up to lately.
He thought he had scored his second goal in the competition, when his powerful header was too hot for the Angola goalkeeper to push away.
Osimhen, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), showed that he was marginally offside and the goal was chalked off but South Africa will only underate him at their own peril.
The African Player Of The Year for 2023 has scored seven goals in 13 Serie A games and has eight goals and two assists in 18 overall games for Napoli this season.