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Preview: Nigeria vs. South Africa – prediction, team news, lineups – Sports Mole

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Nigeria‘s impressive Africa Cup of Nations campaign has put them a step away from the final, but they must outdo South Africa in Wednesday’s semi-final at Stade de la Paix.
The Super Eagles kept a fourth consecutive clean sheet last time out against Angola en route to the last four, while Bafana Bafana needed Ronwen Williams at his finest to defeat Cape Verde in the quarter-finals.

Nigeria's Ademola Lookman celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates on January 27, 2024© Reuters
While Jose Peseiro‘s men secured another victory without conceding against Angola, the Super Eagles showed strains of accumulated fatigue in the last eight, with several players seemingly running on empty in the 1-0 success.
Alex Iwobi and Victor Osimhen seemed the most affected, while Frank Onyeka sustained an injury that led to his withdrawal against Palancas Negras.
Be that as it may, Ademola Lookman has been the Super Eagles’ shining light at AFCON 2023, adding to his brace against Cameroon to score his third at the finals, thus becoming the fourth Nigerian to score three or more goals in the knockout rounds of a single edition, joining Odion Ighalo in 2019 (four), Jay-Jay Okocha in 2004 (three) and Rashidi Yekini in 1994 (three).
The Atalanta forward’s first-half strike was enough to seal a marginal win to take the three-time African champions into a record-extending 15th semi-final, with Egypt (13) a close second, and the team with more podium finishes on the continent hope to eliminate South Africa on Wednesday for the right to face either Ivory Coast or Congo DR on February 11.
Even though it is unknown if the Super Eagles have enough left in the tank for another performance mostly hinging on defensive solidity, the ambition of featuring in their first final since winning it in 2013 could see them carry on doggedly in the competition’s first semi-final.
South Africa's players celebrate after Themba Zwane scores their second goal on January 21, 2024© Reuters
South Africa are not expected to be compliant opponents, considering they have already eliminated competition favourites Morocco in the last 16 and defeated Cape Verde in Saturday’s quarter-final.
Williams was the undoubted hero in the shootout that followed 120 minutes without a goal, saving four penalties to divert attention from his teammates botching their kicks from 12 yards.
Hugo Broos‘s men were hitherto beneficiaries of their goalkeeper denying Gilson Tavares‘s attempt in second-half stoppage time, with the outstanding Mamelodi Sundowns shot-stopper forcing an extra 30 minutes in the first place.
The upshot of their goalkeeper’s brilliance means a first semi-final appearance at the Cup of Nations since 2000, with Bafana Bafana making the semis for a third consecutive edition in that finals at the start of the millennium — winners in 1996, runners-up in 1998 and third in 2000.
It has taken 24 years (including three quarter-final exits) to make it this far at the ongoing tournament, and the 1996 champions are keen to outdo an old foe en route to the nation’s third AFCON final.
South Africa have never beaten Nigeria at the Cup of Nations, losing 2-0 in the semis in 2000, being defeated 4-0 in 2004 and suffering elimination after a 2-1 loss at the last eight in 2019, underscoring the one-sided nature of this fixture at the continental showpiece.

Nigeria's Victor Osimhen is brought off the pitch after sustaining an injury on February 2, 2024© Reuters
Despite Osimhen’s profligate finishing at the finals, Monday night’s news of the Napoli striker’s abdominal discomfort has stunned supporters, as neither Terem Moffi nor Kelechi Iheanacho have received game time all tournament.
Regardless of the African Footballer of the Year’s eventual availability — the centre-forward travelled to Bouake a day late and was spotted in Tuesday’s training — Peseiro is expected to stick to his 3-4-2-1, with Lookman and Moses Simon supporting Moffi, Iheanacho or Paul Onuachu if Osimhen does not pass fitness tests.
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.
Like the Super Eagles, Broos’s men have not conceded since their tournament opener against Namibia, and the AFCON 2017-winning manager is not expected to change the backline that has kept opponents out in four consecutive games.

Nigeria possible starting lineup:
Nwabali; Ajayi, Troost-Ekong, Bassey; Aina, Onyeka, Iwobi, Sanusi; Simon, Lookman; Osimhen
South Africa possible starting lineup:
Williams; Mudau, Kekana, Mvala, Modiba; Mokoena, Sithole; Morena, Zwane, Tau; Makgopa

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Nigeria have not only had an extra day to recover before Wednesday’s fixture with South Africa in Bouake, they have also navigated the knockout rounds without needing extra time or penalties to advance, giving Peseiro’s side the slight physical edge needed in the semis to advance to the competition’s decider.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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