Ahead of the crucial encounter between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Bafana Bafana of South Africa today, the head Coach of the Nigerian side, Gernot Rohr has claimed that the Stuart Baxter’s team are firm favourites to lift the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Rohr’s claim is coming on the heels of the Bafana Bafana’s impressive 1-0 win against Egypt in the Round of 16.
Recall that South Africa shook the world by pulling the unthinkable last Saturday when they dumped hosts Egypt out of the competition in front of 75, 000 fans at the Cairo International Stadium.
Rohr feels their remarkable exploits deserve respect, explaining why their achievements surpass their last-16 win over champions Cameroon.
“We saw the game with Egypt against South Africa and we know South Africa well because they were in our group competing for the qualifiers,” he said at the pre-match press conference.
“To beat Egypt, in this circumstance, up against a good team with one of the best players in Africa (Mohammed Salah), it will make them full of confidence.
“They (Bafana Bafana) deserved to win because they were the better team and now for me, if you beat the favourite number one in Egypt, you become the new favourites.”
Rohr added, “We also had a good game against Cameroon, we also have confidence, so we should be expecting a match of high quality.
“I think the strength of our team is the unity and the fighting spirit — and even against South Africa, which has suddenly become the new favourites of the tournament.
“We also have confidence after scoring three goals (against Cameroon) against a team who did not concede a goal in the group stage, so we’re confident also, but for me South Africa in the favourites.”
But in a swift reaction to Rohr’s claim, the Bafana Bafana coach, Stuart Baxter did not buy the Nigerian coach’s assertion.
Baxter said Rohr was playing mind games.
Baxter was eager to preserve the underdog tag for his team that worked so well for them in a bulldog spirit 1-0 shock of host nation Egypt in front of 75‚000 home fans at Cairo International on Saturday.
“Not at all. I think the Nigerians are absolutely one of the best teams on the continent. They have been for a long time‚” Baxter said.
“They have been a powerhouse of African football for a long time. And one game doesn’t make us favourites.
“I think Gernot would love to have that tag as underdogs‚ and in that way slip the pressure from you guys [Nigeria].
“But I don’t think he’s fooling anybody to tell you the truth.
“No‚ we’ll go into the game as we do every game.
“When we hit that balance between good organisation and still getting the ball in play and playing with pace‚ and closing people down at pace‚ and using the natural inherent ability and technique‚ we can give anybody on this continent a good game.
“Therefore we go into every game knowing that we have the chance to win and the chance to lose. And that is how we’ll approach this game.
“We’ll respect Nigeria and not fear them. And we’ll absolutely not think that we’re the favourites.
“We will know that we have to produce a very good South Africa performance if we’re going to beat them.”
Nigeria have enjoyed a long‚ easy domination over Bafana. However‚ the Super Eagles have not beaten South Africa in five matches.
The Nigeria, South Africa match comes up 8pm Nigerian time at the Cairo International Stadium.