KELECHI Ihenancho’s last penalty kick secured victory for Nigeria against South Africa in a penalty shootout that ended 4-2 and made the country qualify for the final of the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cote d’Ivoire.
The nail-biting match ended 1-1 after the regular time, leading to 30 minutes of added extra time where the winner could not be decided at the Stade de la Paix in Bouke.
But after the much more intense 30 minutes of extra time, the match went straight into penalties, won by Nigeria.
The victory extended Nigeria’s dominance against South Africa in AFCON matches to four wins after winning the Bafana Bafana 2-0 in the 2000 edition.
Also, Nigeria pummeled South Africa 4-0 and 2-0 in the 2004 and 2019 editions, respectively.
But in the semi-final match played on Wednesday, Feb 7, it was not a stroll in the park for the Super Eagles to continue their winning streak at the tournament as the Bafana Bafana dominated possessions with a string of coordinated passes.
South Africa displayed confidence with the striker Percy Pau becoming a thorn in the flesh of Nigeria’s defence led by Captain William Troost-Ekong, but his advances met the firm resilience of the defence.
In the 15th minute, Super Eagles’ player Ola Aina made a cross from the left, but South Africa’s hero in the quarter-finals, the team’s goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, was fast to stop the ball in a crowded penalty area.
Also, South Africa’s Sphephelo Sithole called Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali to action in the 17 minutes, but he calmly saved it.
The match ended goalless in the first half.
But the resumption of the second half saw the substitution of Samuel Chukwueze and Alhassan Yusuf to replace Moses Simon and Alex Iwobi, which increased the pressure of the Super Eagles to take the lead.
The pressure paved off as substitute Chukwueze teed up Victor Osimhen, who got the ball and ran at three South African defenders, only for Mothobi Mvala to step across the striker and bring him down, leading to a penalty kick.
William Troost-Ekong stepped up to take the penalty to give Nigeria the lead in the 67th minute.
The lead spurred Nigeria to increase the tempo in search of a double as the Super Eagles capitalised on a counter which saw Bright Osayi-Samuel square the ball to Victor Osimhen, who tapped the ball into the back of the net.
But the goal was disallowed by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
At the death of the regular time, substitute Yusuf kicked a South African player adjudged for a penalty. South Africa’s Teboho Mokoena stepped up to smash the ball into the net.
The match ended 1-1, leading to a penalty shootout.
Nigeria will face the winner between Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the final on Sunday, February 11.