Relief swept through Super Eagles’ camp yesterday when the team’s doctors announced that African Footballer of the Year, Victor Osimhen, is fit to play in Nigeria’s semifinal clash with South Africa at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations.
The Super Eagles will meet the Bafana Bafana in a repeat of the clash at the National Stadium, Lagos, at the same stage when Nigeria and Ghana co-hosted the event in 2000.
Super Eagles’ camp was thrown into confusion on Monday when it emerged that the African Footballer of the Year was suffering from abdominal discomfort. According to reports, Osimhen’s condition was so bad that he could not join the rest of the squad on their flight from Abidjan to Bouake on Monday night.
Super Eagles Media Officer, Babafemi Raji, told The Guardian that the team’s doctors were working to ensure Osimhen gets well enough to play against South Africa, adding, however, that if he failed to be fit to play, the coaches would replace him with either Paul Onuachu or Moffi Terem.
He debunked reports on some websites that the Napoli star has been cleared to play today, saying, “that would be decided when he gets to Bouaké and the medics do another assessment. He was only cleared to fly from Abidjan to Bouaké to join the team.”
However, Nigeria Football Federation’s (NFF) Director, Media, Ademola Olajire, cleared all doubts about Osimhen’s availability for the game, yesterday, when he simply said: “Osimhen has been cleared to play.”
The 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup winner, who scored a goal and provided an assist in the tournament, was substituted late in the quarterfinal game against Angola at the weekend. Kelechi Iheanacho, who has not featured in this championship, and Joe Aribo, are injured and unlikely to recover on time to play any part in the game.
The Super Eagles had their official training at the Stade Annexe, Bouaké from 4.30 p.m., with the media allowed to watch the session for only the first 15 minutes.
Three-time champions, Nigeria and 1996 champions, South Africa, face off in their second-ever Africa Cup of Nations semifinal clash at the Stade de la Paix. Their only previous meeting at the same stage was at the National Stadium, Lagos, when Nigeria co-hosted the 2000 finals with Ghana. It ended 2-0 in favour of Nigeria with Tijani Babangida scoring the goals.
Today’s clash has been billed as the more potentially explosive of the two semifinals (hosts Cote d’Ivoire are up against Democratic Republic of Congo), given the pedigree, rivalry and ambition of the two teams.
South Africa has only beaten Nigeria twice in 14 previous meetings at full senior level, though Nigeria edged an African Nations Championship clash by beating the hosts 3-1 in Cape Town in 2014.
The Eagles are currently ranked 42nd in the world by FIFA (sixth in Africa), while the Bafana Bafana are 66th in the world (12th in Africa). Four years ago, both teams met at the quarterfinal stage, with the Super Eagles edging the encounter at the Cairo International Stadium 2-1, the goals coming from Samuel Chukwueze and William Ekong. Both players are in the present squad and are likely to be part of today’s battle.
Meanwhile, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has appointed Egyptian official Amin Mohamed Omar as referee for today’s encounter. The match, which will commence at 6.00 p.m., will see Omar’s compatriots, Mahmoud Kamel Abouelregal and Ahmed Hossam Ibrahim, as assistant referee 1 and assistant referee 2 respectively, while Sudanese Mahmood Ali Ismail will serve as fourth official.
Attia Essa Amsaaed from Libya will be the reserve assistant referee, with Yacoub Ali Elmi from Djibouti as commissioner and Aboubacar Doumbouya from Guinea as referee assessor.