Thursday, 08 February 2024 04:44

Nigeria beat South Africa to secure AFCON final

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Super Eagles of Nigeria have qualified for the final of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Ivory Coast.

Nigeria defeated Bafana Bafana of South Africa on penalties in the semi-final at the Stade de la Paix in Bouake on Wednesday. 

Both teams played out a one-all draw through the regular period and extra time before the Eagles triumphed 4-2 in the penalty shootout.

The match was a record 15th semi-final AFCON semi-final appearance for the Super Eagles, and it was a nervy encounter that pushed them to the breaking point.

Victor Osimhen was only announced fit on the eve of the match after suffering abdominal discomfort. However, another injury forced Jose Peseiro, Super Eagles head coach, to make a change to his regular starting line-up. Bright Osayi-Samuel came in for injured Zaidu Sanusi at the back.

Nigeria started with a 3-4-3 formation, which was mirrored by Hugo Broos, the Bafana Bafana head coach, and the Eagles struggled in the early stage of the game.

The backline of William Troost-Ekong, Semi Ajayi and Calvin Bassey initially struggled to curtail the speed and positional awareness of Percy Tau and Evidence Makgopa.

Stanley Nwabali was forced to make a sterling save after Makgopa spun on the edge of the box and aimed a curler into the top corner.

But Nigeria scored the first goal of the game. Mothobi Mvala brought down Osimhen in the South African goal area in the 65th minute. Troost-Ekong made no mistake from the resultant penalty.

A brief moment of madness swung the game Bafana Bafana’s way deep in the second half. Osimhen was wheeling away in celebration of a goal he thought he had scored when a VAR review zoomed on a foul by Alhassan Yusuf on Percy Tau in the Nigerian box during the leadup to the goal. Nigerians were brought to despair from the brink of delight as a penalty was awarded to South Africa.

Teboho Mokoena sent Nwabali the wrong way from the spot-kick. The game crawled into extra time and a penalty shootout eventually.

Mokoena missed his kick, while Nwabali saved Makgopa’s before Kelechi Iheanacho sent Nigeria to the AFCON final.

PLAYER RATINGS

Stanley Nwabali, GK (5/5): He was as calm as ever with impeccable positioning. He made routine saves effortlessly and clawed a certain goal away. He could not save the penalty in regular time but saved twice in the shootout to send Nigeria into the final.

Bright Osayi-Samuel, DW (3/5): An average display in a match he deputised for the injured Sanusi.

Olaoluwa Aina, DW (4/5): He had a solid display again, and his defensive qualities shone through in this match. He was, however, unlucky in the shootout.

Calvin Bassey, DC (3/5): A nervy showing against a more determined opposition but still good in defence.

William Troost Ekong (C), DC (4/5): He mopped up at the back with his usual confidence despite the ageing legs and a determined South Africa attack. He scored the breakthrough penalty goal.

Semi Ajayi, DC (3/5): A well-measured last-ditch challenge saved Nigeria. He continued his impressive performance in both defence and attack.

Frank Onyeka, DM (3/5): He ran himself ragged and made timely tackles to stall the momentum of South Africa’s attacks.

Alex Iwobi, MC (3/5): It was a poor display from Iwobi in this match. He chose perfection over routine passes and failed more often than not.

Moses Simon, WF (3/5): The dribbling winger failed to get the better of two defenders always on him—a below-average day.

Ademola Lookman, WF (3/5): A silent evening for Lookman, but he kept trying and provided an assist for the goal chalked off by VAR. He was subbed off late on.

Victor Osimhen, ST (4/5): Battling as ever despite looking unfit following his injury scare. He had two chances from headers off target but single-handedly won the penalty that led to Ekong’s goal.

Substitutes

Alhassan Yusuf, MC (1/5): His action of note was to give the foul that led to South Africa’s equaliser.

Simon Chukwueze, WF (1/5): Selfish on the ball, poor decision-making and lacks end product.

Joe Aribo, MC (2/5): Stabilised the midfield with simple passes to recycle possession.

Kelechi Iheanacho, MC (4/5): A free kick on target, and he scored the winning kick during the shootout in his first AFCON match.

Terrem Moffi, ST (4/5): Pace set him up, but a last-ditch challenge denied him glory. He scored in the shootout.

 

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