Our Reporter, Abuja
It was a rollercoaster of emotions as Nigeria’s Super Eagles Wednesday evening defeated their South African counterparts, Bafana Bafana, 4-2 on penalty shoot out to book their place in the Afcon final.
In a pulsating game that had everything – energy, tactics, grit and drama – the Super Eagles overcame the momentary disappointment of nearly going two goals up to settling for a 1-1 scoreline in the second half of the game.
After a scoreless first period dominated by South Africa, the Super Eagles seized the initiatives in the second half and were duly rewarded with a penalty when danger man, Victor Osimhen, was brought down in the box by a South African defender. And Captain Fantastic, Troost Ekong, made no mistakes by firing beyond Williams in goal for Bafana Bafana from the spot.
From that point on everything seemed to point to a convincing Nigerian victory as chances after chances kept coming for the Eagles to put the game beyond doubt.
After Nigeria’s top scorer in the competition Ademola Lukeman missed a glaring chance while trying to go around the keeper when it looked rather simpler to put the ball behind the keeper, a big drama that changed the complexion of the game ensued.
South Africa had won a corner kick late in the game which appeared well defended by the Super Eagles who quickly went on a counter in a flash with Victor Osimhen scoring what would have been Nigeria’s second in the game and his second in the tournament.
But while Nigeria was still celebrating, the VAR was called into action. Apparently, Nigerian late subtitute-midfielder Alhassan Yusuf who came in for industrious Alex Iwobi had fouled South African pacy attacker, Percy Tau, in the box during the corner kick after which Nigeria scored.
Although the referee had earlier waved play on after the corner, VAR intervention brought play back with the Osimhen goal ruled out and South Africa awarded a penalty, which was converted by Mokoena bringing the scoreline to 1-1 instead of 2-0 for Nigeria.
The equalizer seemed to have dampened the spirit of the Eagles as South Africa went for the winner at the dying moments of the ninety minutes with waves of attacks. However Nigerian keeper, Nwabali, kept Nigeria in the tournament by pulling a top save to deny Mokoena again from a free kick with his colleague putting the follow-up agonizingly over the bar to take the game into extra time.
The extra time that saw South Africa reduced to ten men produced no goals setting the stage for the lottery of penalties.
The South African team clearly wanted the penalty shoot out more by wasting too much time during the extra time relying on the reputation of its goalkeeper, Williams. He saved four penalties against Cape Verde. But Nwabali was the hero of the night in goal for the Super Eagles as he rose to the occasion by making two saves before the Leicester man, Kelechi Iheanacho, scored the last kick to put Nigeria in the finals.