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South Africa will be tough — Ajayi

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West Brom central defender Semi Ajayi was one of the five Super Eagles players who were airlifted to Uyo via a private jet arranged by the Nigeria Football Federation due to a strike by the Labour Union on Monday, June 3.

Ajayi has underlined that the Super Eagles will not underestimate South Africa in a 2026 World Cup qualifier on Friday, noting that Hugo Broos’ side gave them a tough time during the semifinal clash at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations. 

The Super Eagles required a penalty shootout to see off a stubborn Bafana Bafana side to seal their passage to the AFCON final. 

Although Nigeria are missing the services of reigning African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen, 2023 AFCON Best Player William Troost-Ekong, Zaidu Sanusi and Moses Simon, Ajayi believes that the Super Eagles have a squad capable of beating South Africa on Friday. 

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Ajayi said: “We are really looking forward to the game on Friday, we hope to make Nigerians proud and secure the three points. 

“It’ll be a tough game, they gave us a tough game in AFCON so we are not expecting anything less, but we are definitely prepared for this and have to do everything we can to get the win.

“We are missing a few of our key players and they’re all top, top players but the good thing about this country is that we are blessed with so many talents. 

“We have a lot of ability in the squad so it’s a blessing for the coach to be able to call on so many good players and now is the time that we need to show the depth that we have and other players will step up, I’m sure they will.”

Nigeria have made a sluggish start to the 2026 World Cup qualifiers, drawing their opening two games against Lesotho and Zimbabwe, with Ajayi going the distance in both matches. 

“Those two games are gone now, we can only affect the future and the future is these two games in front of us now. Everybody is raring and hungry to make sure we achieve the maximum points from these two games.

“We know it’s not going to be easy, we don’t think we are going t be handed or gifted it, we know we have to work for it and earn it, and that’s what we plan to do,” Ajayi remarked. 

The former Arsenal U21 captain concluded by speaking about the appointment of Finidi George as the new coach of the senior national team. 

“He has been around us for a while now, he was assistant coach under the previous manager so we are all familiar with him, he’s familiar with us. 

“We know how he works, he knows how we work so it’s been a pretty seamless transition and the preparation is going really, really well.” 

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