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Friday, June 9, 2017

Uyo ready for the big game

After months of eager anticipation the big game between Nigeria and South Africa is a mere 24 hours away.

Once an inconsequential tie a game between the two nations has blossomed into quite a rivalry.Especially so since Bafana Bafana tripped the Eagles from playing in the Equatorial Guinea 2015 Cup of Nations and more so since Nigeria has failed to beat them ever since.

Bafana Bafana landed in Nigeria on Wednesday with a 35-man contingent and a new coach and new captain and are quite confident of playing spoiler again. Preceding them was a scouting contingent two weeks ago that was sent to inspect the Uyo stadium surface. It was led by Team Manager, Barney Kujane, who decided that the playing field was similar to that at FNB Stadium in Nasrec near Soweto, and since then the team has been camped there.

This meticulous planning is a departure from the chaos that marked Bafana’s preparations for their 2017 African Nations Cup qualifier against Mauritania under former coach Ephraim ‘‘Shakes” Mashaba in September 2017 when some traveled with the wrong boots.

This new manner of approach has seemingly also boosted the confidence of Baxter’s new team and they have not been shy to share this. "We respect Nigeria, they've beaten us many times before and have big-name players, but it will be a different ball game this time round," said Khune their 29-year old net-minder.

Their new captain Thulani ‘Tyson’ Hlatshwayo was less diplomatic calling the Eagles arrogant and ripe for plucking. He disclosed that his side knows what to do and will exploit the lack of pace in the Eagles’ defence to get a result against the three time African champions. Some of his sound bites have included.

“We know we are smaller than them as players‚ so we don’t want to play the long all but catch them on the counter. They are big‚ but a bit slow.
“It is going to be a grudge game for them. Knowing Nigerians‚ that’s how they are. They do have that arrogance they carry around. We have to be humble and make sure we don’t give Nigeria too much respect‚ and not be scared of them,” he said.

Coach Baxter added to the fray by concluding "We are capable of hurting Nigeria. We want to be a big nuisance to them -- to be their worst nightmare."
The air in Uyo this morning is thick with anticipation as the city swells under the influx of fans, the international press and assorted game officials.

Dignitaries continue to be shuttled in as the locals all confirmed the faith is coach Rohr who has been unbeaten since his appointment.

Stella from Aba Polytechnic an avid Nigerian rooter, arrived yesterday to cheer for the birds and was confident of a home victory.
“We will beat them by two goals at least. They will see ‘wahala’ [pidging for trouble]. Let them stick to Rugby and Cricket. Football is ours” she said.
Chinonso who lives in Kumba in Southern Cameroon, and drove the circa 400 kilometers to be at the game, was just as optimistic, though more guarded sharing: “It will be a tough first half for both teams.

But at the end Nigeria will impose her style of play and score. One goal should be enough. I just pray that nobody gets hurt as the next World Cup qualifier against Cameroon is just around the corner.”
Malaika sporting a Bafana T-shirt and married to a Nigerian, came from Abuja and was of a different opinion. She was confident that the southern Africans would do enough to claw out a draw pointing out:
“On paper they are better – true. But we are not writing an exam here but playing a game and we too have also gotten better over the years and all we have to do is sit back and defend and hopefully catch them napping.

A draw would be acceptable as we will then finish them off at home. Regardless, I pray for a good game to celebrate that we are all Africans and can live together peacefully side by side regardless of where. ”

Meanwhile back to the air in Uyo, while the average temperature will be in the mid 80’s by this afternoon the humidity is also expected to be at an amazing 100%, suggesting a hot steamy day at game time as this is expected to carry over tomorrow.

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