Thrashing it out on the field

Rivalry in football is mainly limited to derby matches, but the African Nations Cup has an instance that dates back as far as the 1996 Cup held in South Africa.

Bafana Bafana and Nigeria are the greatest of enemies when it comes to football. On Saturday this rivalry will be renewed as both nations try to qualify for the knockout stages in the Nations cup next week.

Bafana Bafana had a great start to the Nations Cup despite an appalling performance against Benin, but that gave us the result we needed.

It is now time for the South African national team to dispense with Nigeria, who have beaten all national teams of South African soccer. While South Africa had a good start, for Nigeria it was a nightmare they will want to forget has soon as possible. And against South Africa they will want to prove they will never be beaten by the nation down south.

Nigeria’s playmaker Jay Jay Okocha has already indicated that Saturday’s game will see a wounded Eagle backlash on Bafana Bafana. The importance of this game to the folks back home has seen to it that a Castle Premiership match between Orlando Pirates and Jomo Cosmos kicks off late in the evening instead of at 4pm as first suggested, giving local fans enough time to support, in spirit, the national team in Tunisia.

The magnitude of this Cup game will see pride and three points at stake with the winner taking all. Bafana Bafana will now have to exorcise the ghosts of the previous matches against Nigeria, while the Super Eagles look to entrench their dominance of South Africa. But if the Nigeria/Bafana Bafana derby does not live up to expectations, then all is not lost — a bigger game is at hand, that of Morocco versus Bafana Bafana.

In this game the bid of both countries for the 2010 World Cup will be in the spotlight. A win for either team could be a public relations dream. The game will be watched with keen interest by the world. Bafana Bafana can no longer just hope for a win — it should also be a convincing one. They have beaten Morocco on all important occasions and this one should be no different.

Already the hosts, Tunisia, have qualified for the knockout stages, meaning that there will be still large crowds at games because the hosts are still in the competition. Other nations by the end of the weekend will be hoping that they qualify, making their final games in the midweek just practice games and resting their key players.

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