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WCQ: Finidi to unleash Boniface, Lookman on South Africa 


. Kick-off 8:00pm

African rivals Nigeria and South Africa will go head-to-head in the third week of the CAF World Cup qualifiers this Friday night at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo. 

The hosts enter this match in fourth place in Group C with two points in as many games, while the visitors are on three points and trail group leaders Rwanda by one point. 

It is exactly four months to the day that these continental rivals faced off in the semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations, and on that day, there was nothing to separate the teams after 120 minutes, but Nigeria ultimately emerged victorious in the penalty shootout. 

The Super Eagles went on to lose the final to the host nation Ivory Coast, which was only their second defeat in a competitive fixture since a 1-0 away loss to Guinea-Bissau back in March 2023. 

Now under the guidance of Finidi George, who replaced Portuguese tactician Jose Peseiro earlier this year, Nigeria are gunning for what would be their seventh World Cup qualification berth. They have featured in three of the last four world tournaments, with the exception of the most recent event in Qatar.

On either side of the AFCON, George’s side played out consecutive 1-1 draws against Lesotho and Zimbabwe in this competition, while they beat Ghana 2-1 and lost 2-0 to Mali in their international friendlies in March this year. 

Historically, Nigeria have been the dominant side in this encounter, winning four and drawing five of their last 10 matches against this opponent, though they are missing a few key players and will need to be at their best to break down Bafana Bafana’s solid defence. 

Meanwhile, South Africa have emerged as one of the most improved teams in Africa in recent years, and following their third-place finish at the Africa Cup of Nations, they broke into the top-10-ranked teams in the CAF region, according to FIFA rankings. 

Having played out back-to-back draws against Androrra and Algeria during the international break in March, that loss to the Super Eagles in February is the only one South Africa have conceded in their last eight matches in all competitions. 

Bafana Bafana have made a mixed start to qualifying for the 2026 World Cup, beating Benin 2-1 in their group opener while losing 2-0 to the tournament’s surprise package so far, Rwanda, on the road in game two.

Key to Bafana Bafana’s recent progress has been the improvements made in defence, which let in only three goals in seven AFCON matches earlier this year while keeping five clean sheets. 

Hugo Broos’s side are still within striking distance of top spot, though, and are aiming to reach the World Cup main draw for the fourth time in their history and their first since 2010 when they hosted the grand spectacle. 

Team News

As mentioned, Nigeria are missing a few key players, with the most notable being Napoli forward Victor Osimhen, who will not feature in either of the side’s qualifiers this month due to injury. 

George raised a few eyebrows by opting not to call up Ahmed Musa and veteran defender Kenneth Omeruo for these qualifiers, while Nathan Tella requested to be excused due to personal reasons. 

The Super Eagles head coach has called up NPFL rising stars Kenneth Igboke and Sodiq Ismael, along with Rizespor midfielder Ibrahim Olawoyin, all of whom are in line for selection.

South Africa will have to make do without the services of an experienced defender as well in Grant Kekana, who was forced to leave the team’s training camp after sustaining a hamstring injury. 

In place of the centre-back, Broos has given the nod to Kaizer Chiefs defender Given Msimango, while Orlando Pirates’ Nkosinathi Sibisi and FCSB’s Siyabonga Ngezana are also among the new additions to the squad. 

Ronwen Williams, who saved an incredible four of five penalties against Cape Verde in the AFCON quarter-final, was flagged as an injury doubt but has travelled with the squad and is in contention to make the starting 11. 

Nigeria possible starting lineup:
Nwabali; Osayi-Samuel, Ajayi, Tanimu, Bassey; Ndidi, Onyedika; Lookman, Iwobi, Chukwueze; Boniface

South Africa possible starting lineup:
Williams; Mobbie, Mvala, Ngezana, Modiba; Mokoena, Sithole; Tau, Zwane; Appollis; Rayners.

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