2019 AFCON Qualifiers: Tau tops Arsenal's Iwobi in the SA-Nigeria clash
More than just an early ticket to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals, something else was at stake. As trivial as it may sound, there was a sizeable number of fans who were eager to see how their favorite stars compare with others. In particular, Bafana Bafana’s starboy who has appeared consistently in the news for more than 365 days, Percy Tau, entrusted to lead the South African line once more had to find ways to get past very experienced Nigerian defenders such as Leon Balogun and Troost-Ekong. On the other hand, Arsenal forward, Alex Iwobi who has seen his form reach unprecedented levels under Unai Emery represented a unique headache for the Bafana goal “watchmen.” But there was going to be only one winner. Someone had to come up on top.
Literally, there wasn’t actually a winner as the match ended in a 1-1 stalemate. Effectively, Nigeria got the better of the result as the point gained was enough to secure an AFCON qualification after six years of absence. There was something else impossible to miss from the match that took place at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. Some may have confused South Africa’s rare 2-0 first leg victory as a fluke but Saturday really made a good case as to why the Southern African nation’s football is on the up. Despite the lack of cup successes, the investment in the ABSA Premiership (their local league) is slowly paying dividend at national level.
In recent years, not many African teams could dominate possession in an encounter against the Super Eagles. Their expansive talent spread across the world and in the most competitive leagues around the world always ensure their setup would always befit the description, “star studded.” It wasn’t the case on matchday 5 of the 2019 AFCON qualifiers. Nigeria had to keep a defense of five for the better part of the match as Bafana seemed to always neatly combine in neat quick passing style otherwise known as the shoe-shine-piano in the South. The 22-year-old Alex Iwobi did remind the world on occasion, as to why he is considered a man in form. The boy couldn’t just stop slicing in those “Mesut Ozil” passes or ask opponents their shirt numbers in slick dribbling fashion. However, Percy Tau, the Brighton & Hove Albion forward who is on loan in Belgium was the bigger man. The 24-year-old was a constant menace to the Super Eagles eventually being rewarded with the Man of The Match Award. One memory from the match, impossible to forget, was that created by the former Mamelodi Sundowns forward. Tau received the ball at the edge of the penalty box, dumped three Nigerian markers with a simple back heel pass to himself, turned on the pace to grab the ball, cheated the goalkeeper with a fake shot before serving up an assist for Lebo Mothiba for his 4th international goal in 5 matches. On the most silver platter you can ever find.
Adding to the statement made by Bafana that they are ready to compete with the highly rated nations, Percy showed once again why everyone has been singing his praises. He looks ready to compete at any football level on the planet. South Africa and Libya will have to battle it out for the final qualification place in group E on matchday 6 to be played in March 2019. A point in Libya, will be enough to see Bafana through to the finals.