Cote d’Ivoire 2023: Nigeria Beat South Africa on Penalties to Reach 8th AFCON Final

Stanley Nwabali was the hero as three-time champions Nigeria advanced to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations for the eighth time in history with a dramatic 4-2 penalty shootout win (FT 1-1) over South Africa in the first semi-final match played on Wednesday at the Stade de la Paix in Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire.

Goals from the penalty spot by Super Eagles’ captain William Troost-Ekong and Bafana Bafana’s Teboho Mokoena in the 67th and 90th minutes respectively took the match into extra time.

Troost-Ekong scores his second goal from the penalty spot after African Player of the Year Victor Osimhen was brought down by a poor challenge from defender Mothobi Mvala. The Nigerian defender coolly dispatched it straight down the middle to put the Eagles in the lead.

However, a VAR assisted penalty conceded by Nigeria gifted South Africa a goal in the 90th minute scored by Teboho Mokoena.

A few minutes earlier, Nigeria thought they were two goals up after a swift counter, but Osimhen’s goal from Bright Osayi-Samuel’s cross was ruled off as the referee consulted VAR and awarded the earlier foul to the South Africans.

The much-anticipated match between the two former AFCON champions was watched by a host of African dignitaries, including the Nigerian Vice President, Kashim Shettima, and CAF President, Patrice Motsepe. Super Eagles legends, Jay Jay Okocha and Segun Odegbami, also watched the match in Bouake.

The Bafana Bafana had dominated proceedings in the first half of a tense encounter with almost 60 per cent of ball possession and more shots on target, but were let down by poor finishing. But they came close. A quick shot by the South African striker, Evidence Makgopa, who was denied by a fantastic left hand save from Nwabali in the 39th minute.

Earlier in the 25th minute a great tackle by Super Eagles defender Semi Ajayi in the 18-yard box denied the South Africans a goal scoring opportunity. Less than two minutes later, another excellent, well-timed challenge by Frank Onyeka helped to nullify a South African counter attack from the right side. An Ademola Lookman’s freekick had earlier found Ajayi who headed the ball tamely to South African goalkeeper and quarter-final penalty hero, Ronwen Williams.

Just before 30 minutes cooling break, African Player of the Year Victor Osimhen tried a speculative shoot from the Eagles centre circle, but it hit a South African player.

Also, in the 34th minute, the South Africans got the better of the Nigerian defence, but a heavy touch made Percy Tau lose the ball to Nwabali who had rushed out of his line to claim it.

In the 37th minute, a weak shot by Alex Iwobi, despite Osimhen calling for the ball in the box, was easily saved by Williams.

In the 44th minute, Osimhen got a sniff with a free header from a Super Eagles corner, which was easily stopped by Williams.

The Super Eagles started the second half strongly by piling early pressure on the South African defence. Osimhen missed another opportunity with his header sailing wide off the crossbar from a corner.

The pressure paid off when Osimhen was fouled in the box in the 63rd minute by Mvala, and Troost-Ekong scored from the resulting penalty.

Teboho Mokoena’s penalty goal in the 90th minute took the match into extra time.

In the second half of extra time, substitute Terem Moffi who replaced Osimhen was fouled by Grant Kekana. Following a VAR check, the South African defender was sent off with a straight red. Another substitute Kelechi Iheanacho’s tame free kick landed safely in the hands of Bafana Bafana goalkeeper.

Both teams could not be separated after 120 minutes and the match was decided on penalties.

Nigeria scored four of their spot-kicks (Ola Aina missed one), with Iheanacho scoring the decisive final penalty that sent Nigeria through to the final.

Super Eagles coach, Jose Peseiro, also got his tactics right with the substitutions he made towards the end of the match. The substitutes, – Moffi, Kenneth Omeruo and Iheanacho, all scored their spotkicks.

But Nwabali, who plays for South African club side, Chippa United, was the hero and man-of-the-match as he saved two South African penalties to ensure the Super Eagles keep their hunt for a fourth AFCON trophy alive.

Nigeria will play either Cote d’Ivoire or DR Congo in the final on Sunday.


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