Each nation has enjoyed glorious moments in their past, but right now the difference between them could not be more marked.
While Bafana Bafana are facing the prospect of a summer without a World Cup, following disappointing results against Ethiopia and Botswana, Nigeria are the reigning champions of Africa.
Stephen Keshi’s young and talented side are by no means assured of a spot at Brazil 2014, but they are on an upwards trajectory and look to have an exciting era ahead of them.
How Gordon Igesund would relish both the recent achievement and the irrepressible potential of the current crop of Super Eagles.
This article looks into the Nigeria camp ahead of tonight’s friendly and runs down the Super Eagles side likely to contest this box office African clash.
Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria’s nominal number one, is currently enjoying a second ‘first start’ at Ligue 1 side Lille.
The stopper was shipped out on loan last season, after having arrived in northern France back in the summer 2012, but has impressed after having been handed the responsibility this term.
Despite some decent saves against Spain in the Confederations Cup, and his good start to life in Lille, Enyeama finds himself axed for the South Africa friendly. His blunders against Uruguay, it seems, have cost him the faith of Keshi, allowing Austin Ejide to step in and challenge for the number one jersey.
Ejide is an accomplished keeper, a long-time backup, who will realise the value of the opportunity placed before him.
Chelsea youngster Kenneth Omeruo, who has emerged as a vital component of Keshi’s first XI since integrating himself into the side during the Afcon, is absent.
The defender suffered a relapse of the shoulder injury that prematurely curtailed his participation at the Confederations Cup and remains in London.
The complication may well rule him out of the Super Eagles’ crucial World Cup Qualifier against Malawi – a fact that makes Azubuike Egwuekwe’s likely participation against South Africa all the more important.
The defender is bold, imposing, strong and diligent and most importantly has forged an accomplished partnership with Godfrey Oboabona. The Warri Wolves centre-back will look to rekindle the astute understanding the pair enjoyed during 2012, and an impressive outing will help Keshi resist the urge to recall Joseph Yobo.
Efe Ambrose, on the right flank, and Elderson Echiejile, on the left, have grown into their roles since being given starting berths by Keshi. They both demonstrated their increasing attacking awareness and adventurousness at the Confederations Cup and look assured.
Elderson has been earmarked by English Premier League side Everton as a replacement for Leighton Baines should he depart, while Ambrose can look forward to another year of Champions League competition with Celtic.
John Obi Mikel’s absence after being laid low with a stomach bug is a blow for Nigeria, who base their game upon the Chelsea man’s measured, majestic displays in the heart of the park.
Mikel both holds the team’s structure and shape, and inspires with occasional flashes of brief, esoteric creativity.
In his place, greater attacking burden will fall upon Sunday Mba.
The Enugu Rangers man burst onto the scene at the Cup of Nations, where his pertinent contributions sealed triumph for Nigeria and etched the midfielder’s name into the annals of history.
Since then, however, complications in his club career have seemingly affected his fitness and performance. His outings at the Confederations Cup were muted, to say the least, and the added responsibility may make or break his short term future with the national side.
Alongside him, Ogenyi Onazi should return following his Confederations Cup absence. Onazi is another youngster who has emerged as a crucial cog of the side, and the energy, anticipation and grit that he brings to the team ought not be understated.
As for the third spot in the midfield three, John Ogu might be asked to offer creativity, Nnamdi Oduamadi could drop into a deeper role, or Fegor Ogude might be employed as a second pragmatic talent.
This will be a big call for Keshi to make, and one that may well indicate his intentions ahead of the crunch contest with Malawi.
Up front, the misadventures of a whole host of forwards at the Confederations Cup have resulted in the omission of Joseph Akpala and Anthony Ujah from the latest squad.
Emmanuel Emenike is another who has not made the trip, as he has been afforded time to acclimatise to life at his new club, Fenerbahce.
Ideye Brown and Ahmed Musa have rejoined the squad, but need to improve their decision-making and finishing in the rarefied context of international football. The Mandela Challenge clash will be a prime occasion for them to show Keshi that his faith is not misplaced.
The recall of Victor Obinna is intriguing. The versatile frontman has never quite matched the expectations that accompanied him during the early stages of his career with Internazionale in the Serie A, but has a chance to prove that he can still contribute to the national side.
The return of Victor Moses will be a boon for the team, but it is unlikely that his long-term international future will be matched by veteran Shola Ameobi.
The Newcastle man looked set to make the Afcon squad earlier in the year, before a clause in his contract prevented his participation. A suspected rift with Keshi looks to have healed, and Ameobi returns to the squad with the World Cup as a very alluring objective. He will not bring longevity or goals, but his experience and imposing physique is clearly of interest to the Big Boss.
The clash with South Africa will provide Ameobi and the others mentioned with a perfect opportunity to prove to the manager both that they can play an instant role in the upcoming contest with Malawi, and that they can continue this exciting era under Keshi.