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AFCON 2023 Semifinal Preview: Nigeria vs South Africa

A thrilling and exciting 2023 Africa Cup of Nations is down to the final four teams and there is plenty still to enjoy in Ivory Coast. The first match on Wednesday features a talented Nigeria team that is finally showing signs of their full potential but a dangerous trap may be awaiting the Super Eagles. South Africa, composed just about entirely of players who compete in South African and African club football, are showing no fear of teams with European-based players and Bafana Bafana are ready to pounce again. Read all about both teams in our preview below:

Nigeria vs South Africa- 17:00 GMT

Nigeria

Cleared to play in Wednesday’s semifinal against South Africa, Nigeria star striker Victor Osimhen hasn’t produced eye-catching statistics but is working hard to occupy defenders and create space for his fellow attackers

When head coach José Peseiro was given the job with Nigeria, the Portuguese tactician and his team struggled to produce football that could break down the opposition. However, Peseiro adopted a more defensive approach and a tactical approach for this tournament that has boosted the Super Eagles defense and utilized their pace and quality in the attack. A 5-2-3 (or 5-4-1) formation is bringing out the best of the Super Eagles and the news that Victor Osimhen’s injury is not as serious as first feared is another reason for Nigerians to be optimistic.

Defending with numbers is one of the tactical adjustments that is producing results. An approach with three central defenders makes the most of the strengths of physically imposing players like captain William Troost-Ekong and Semi Ajayi while there is more freedom for Calvin Bassey’s impressive pace and ability on the ball as a distributor. Wing backs Ola Aina and Zaidu Sanusi have more permission to get forward and ball winning midfielder Frank Onyeka is also thriving with more support from a system that uses three central defenders. Nigeria have only conceded one goal in five matches and have four consecutive clean sheets with Stanley Nwabali at the goalkeeper position, who has had to make few saves due to the impressive performance of the defense in front of him.

The approach from Peseiro is also beneficial for his attacking players. Alex Iwobi continues to perform well as a midfield maestro who is given plenty of freedom to find Nigeria’s exceptionally quick attackers, who have more room to burst into space. On the left wing, Moses Simon is a winger who is gifted with the ability to strike the ball well with both feet making him difficult to defend. It is similar with Ademola Lookman on the right wing who looks to cut inside and become an auxiliary forward in support of striker Victor Osimhen, who keeps defenders occupied with his outstanding pace and runs into space for Lookman to find the gaps and opportunities to shoot.

Probable XI

South Africa

South Africa goalkeeper Ronwen Williams continues to prove he is the true star of the Bafana Bafana team and the Mamelodi Sundowns player will have to come up big again against Nigeria

South Africa are continuing to prove that a strong team mentality and strategy can overcome flashy European-based talent in Ivory Coast. Coached by Belgian Hugo Broos, Bafana Bafana are defending strongly as a team and exploiting opposing teams on the counter-attack with their pace and the playmaking ability of central midfielder Teboho Mokoena. With an eleven that is largely composed of players from top South African club Mamelodi Sundowns, South Africa are showing how strong team chemistry and an excellent goalkeeper in Ronwen Williams can take a team far but this side has plenty of talent within its ranks.

First and foremost, Williams proved he is the highest performing goalkeeper in this competition. An extremely talented shot stopper, the Mamelodi Sundowns custodian is also erasing memories of some of the gaffes he committed with the ball at his feet not because of a lack of ability but more overconfidence. In front of him is a defensive line he knows well because all of the defenders play for Sundowns as well. Mothobi Mvala is a tenacious man-marker who will be charged with stopping Osimhen and central defense partner Grant Kekana is always well positioned. Fullbacks Khuliso Mudau and Aubrey Modiba can keep up with the pace of Nigeria’s quick attackers to complete a determined defensive line.

While Williams received all the accolades in the quarterfinal victory over Cape Verde, Sundowns teammate Teboho Mokoena continues to pull the strings in the midfield for Bafana Bafana. An excellent striker of the ball on long range efforts or set pieces, Mokoena will keep the Nigerian defense honest and has the vision to find striker Evidence Makgopa as well as wingers Percy Tau and Thapelo Morena who have loads of pace on the flanks. Sphephelo Sithole does all the tough defensive work in midfield which allows Mokoena to roam forward and focus on his playmaking duties.

Probable XI

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