Mikel Obi (left) challenges Andile Jali of South Africa when both teams clashed in Uyo in 2014

Besides the three points at stake, unbeaten as well as head-to-head records will be riding on Saturday’s first big step towards qualification to Cameroon 2019 between Nigeria and South Africa in Uyo.

Added to these is the fact that both teams failed to qualify for the last AFCON in Gabon earlier this year.

For hosts Nigeria, they have failed to feature in two straight editions of a competition they have won thrice and South Africa played a big part in keeping out the Eagles from AFCON 2015 when they held them to a pulsating 2-2 draw in Uyo.

Eagles coach Gernot Rohr said he expects another tough contest at the same venue tomorrow.

“It’s important to win the first game of the qualifiers because that will put you on course for qualification,” Rohr.

“But we will be without some of our key players – our captain (Mikel Obi), goalkeeper (Carl Ikeme) and Leon Balogun – through injuries. So we have to rebuild the team to beat South Africa, who last lost in October 2015 to Angola.

“They have not lost in 17 games – nine victories and eight draws. This record shows it won’t be easy to beat them.”

“It won’t be easy despite our good record against South Africa. With the support of the fans, we will give our best to win the three points,” added stand-in captain Ogenyi Onazi.

Ahmed Musa of Nigeria (right) battles for the ball with Andile Jali of South Africa during the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers between South Africa and Nigeria at Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town on 10 September 2014

In the absence of some key stars and the decision not to pick China-based strikers Brown Ideye and Odion Ighalo, Rohr has named as many as 10 players, who are yet to make an official debut for the Eagles.

They include FC Porto defensive midfielder Mikel Agu and strikers Henry Onyekuru and Olanrewaju Kayode, who were this past season top scorers in the Belgian and Austrian leagues, respectively.

However, even with some promising talent at his disposal, Rohr will stick with the players he has worked a lot longer with.

Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr

Saturday’s game will be the 13th meeting between the two teams with South Africa managing one of these games, a friendly in Johannesburg in 2004.

But the last three meetings have ended in draws and the South African confidence will be further boosted by the fact that coach Stuart Baxter was the man who masterminded Bafana’s famous win over the Eagles 13 years ago.

Englishman Baxter has backed his team to upset the home team.

Stuart Baxter – South Africa coach

“We respect the Eagles because of their history and they are putting together a new team who have been quite successful,” said Baxter now back in his second spell in charge of South Africa.

“But we can make an upset and we will do all we can to get a positive result here.”

Turkey-based striker Tekelo Rantie, who scored twice against Nigeria in 2014, has recovered from injury and should lead the attack with Belgium-based Andile Jali pulling the strings in midfield.

Bafana Bafana boast of a good away record recently and so they will not be overwhelmed by the local conditions they will be up against tomorrow.

Kick-off time is 5pm Nigerian time.

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