Nigeria booked their place in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations final with a dramatic 4-2 penalty shootout victory over South Africa after the teams played out a 1-1 draw in Bouake on Wednesday.
Kelechi Iheanacho scored the decisive spot-kick to earn the Super Eagles the victory after after goalkeeper Nwabali had saved from Mokoena and Makgopa,
After a goalless first half dominated by South Africa, the game came alive in the second period led by Nigerian captain William Troost-Ekong. Osimhen’s dangerous run into the box was halted by a rash tackle from defender Mothobi Mvala, for the penalty call.
And just like Nigeria’s group stage win over Ivory Coast when aptain Troost-Ekongtook responsibility from the spot, and smashed home the penalty to give his side the lead on the 67th minute.
Osimhen thought he had secured Nigeria’s place in the final with five minutes left, turning home a quick counter attacking move to make it 2-0.
But in yet another dramatic AFCON twist, the referee went to VAR and instead disallowed the goal for a foul in the build-up. To make matters worse for Nigeria, he then awarded South Africa a penalty at the other end which Teboho Mokoena coolly converted in the 90th minute to level the scores 1-1.
With no goals in extra time despite chances for both sides, the match went to penalties. Goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali emerged as the shootout hero for Nigeria, saving two South African spot kicks. Super Eagles substitute Kelechi Iheanacho then calmly scored the winning penalty to clinch a 4-2 shootout triumph.
South Africa’s chances took a major blow late in extra time when defender Grant Kekana was sent off for bringing down Terem Moffi. But Bafana Bafana had earlier showcased their resilience, equalizing late on through Mokoena’s nerveless penalty just when it looked like Osimhen’s disallowed goal would send Nigeria through.
Mokoena, who had scored the last-gap penalty to deny Nigeria five consecutive clean sheets and send the game to extra time, failed to score during the shoot out as Nwabali saved from both him and Makgopa. The Bafana Bafana captain was unable to repeat his heroics from the quarter-finals this time.
It was then left to substitute Kelechi Iheanacho to decide the shootout, smashing his effort to the left side of Williams to clinch a 4-2 victory for the Super Eagles.
In the end, Nigeria’s greater experience and pedigree shone through as they booked a date with Ivory Coast in the final. It will be a repeat of their group stage meeting which Nigeria won 1-0.
The Super Eagles will now face hosts Ivory Coast in Sunday’s final, a rematch of their Group A encounter which Nigeria won 1-0.