Nigeria Set To Play Eighth AFCON Final, Beat S/Africa On Penalties

Nigeria advanced to the Africa Cup of Nations final after a thrilling 4-2 penalty shootout victory over South Africa at the Stade de la Paix, Bouke, in the first semi-final of the ongoing competition in Ivory Coast on Wednesday, according to PUNCH Sports Extra. Goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali had a man-of-the-match performance, saving two penalties.

In his debut tournament action, Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho scored the game-winning kick for Nigeria while Nwabali denied Teboho Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa.

In normal time, both teams scored from the spot, and extra time resulted in a 1-1 draw. Following a foul on Victor Osimhen, William Troost-Ekong gave Nigeria the lead in the 67th minute. Mokoena then defeated Nwabali from 12 yards out to tie the score for South Africa.

The Super Eagles had been in seven AFCON finals before, and this is their eighth appearance. They lost four of the championship games in 1984, 1988, 1990, and 2000, but they won three of them in 1980, 1994, and 2013.

The encounter lived up to the pre-match anticipation as South Africa matured and had a field day in the Nigerian half as Makpoga, Sphephelo Sithole, and Al Ahly attacker Percy Tau challenged goalkeeper Nwabali. This was despite Nigeria’s early possession retention.

In the opening fifteen minutes, the 27-year-old made a stop from Sithole before recovering a low effort from Tau and then parrying a well-placed attempt from Makpoga.

In the heat of trying to take control of the game, the Eagles managed two attempts on goal. The first was through Semi Ajayi’s header off an Ademola Lookman’s free-kick, while Alex Iwobi tested Bafana Banana keeper Rowen Williams with a low drive, even when he had options in Osimhen and Lookman to pass to. Osimhen later headed wide from a corner just before halftime.

Jose peseiro’s men began the second half on the front foot but the best chance they mustered from their pressure was Osimhen heading over off a teasing cross from Bright Osayi-Samuel. Before then, Nwabali had to come off his line to prevent a South Africa counter-attack.
On the hour mark, Peseiro rang two changes bringing on Alhassan Yusuf for Iwobi, while Sameul Chukweze came on for Moses Simon. The substitution paid off instantly as Osimhen won a penalty off a foul by Mothobi Mvala after being fed by Chukwueze.

Nigeria then took the lead in the 67th minute through captain Troost-Ekong who defied the penalty-saving credentials of Williams and slotted the spot kick beyond the South-African keeper’s legs.

Seven minutes later, Ekong was almost culpable for what would have been an equaliser for Bafana, but the Eagles and Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief after Makpoga flashed his shot inches wide after getting the better of the Nigerian captain with a turn.

Moments after Lookman missed the chance to double Nigeria’s lead, Osimhen thought he had scored Nigeria’ second goal in the 85th minute, but a VAR review on a foul in the Nigerian box in the build-up resulted in a penalty for the South Africans instead.

Second half substitute Yusuf fouled Tau in the box and Mokoena made no mistake from the spot to draw the South Africans level on the dot of regulation time, even as Peseiro’s men survived six minutes of additional time to force the game into extra-time.

Chances weren’t few and far between in extra-time. Two minutes into the 30 minutes, Lookman forced a near post save from Williams after Ajayi had also intercepted a Bafana counter-attack, while Osimhen also went close on two occasions.

South Africa finished the game with 10 men after Grant Kekana was given a straight red card for a cynical foul on extra time substitute Terem Moffi. Iheanacho, who also came on in extra time, however, couldn’t direct the resulting free-kick beyond Williams as the game went into the lottery of penalties.

Moffi scored first for Nigeria in the shootout before Nwabali denied Mokoena and Makpoga, while Kenneth Omeruo, Ekong and Iheanacho all scored for Nigeria after Nwabali had spared the blushes of Ola Aina, who missed Nigeria’s third kick.

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