FOOTBALL – Three-time winners Nigeria were given a scare but reached the Africa Cup of Nations final after goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali saved two penalties in the shootout to guide his side to a 4-2 victory over South Africa following a 1-1 draw last night.
Nigeria had lost five of their previous six semi-finals at the continental finals and rode their luck in this one to book a place in Sunday’s decider against hosts Ivory Coast who beat Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 later last night.
William Troost-Ekong put Nigeria into the lead from the penalty spot midway through the second half, before South Africa earned a spot-kick of their own in the final minute of the 90 and it was converted by Teboho Mokoena.
South Africa lost defender Grant Kekana to a red card in extra time as Nigeria put them under constant pressure, and then lost their nerve too in the shootout as Nwabali saved from Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa.
“It was a very good victory against a very good team, the most organised team at the tournament. We deserved to win, but they (South Africa) deserved to win too,” Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro told reporters.
“We were better in the penalty shootout, so my players deserve it. The team fought well.”
Nwabali plays his club football in South Africa at topflight side Chippa United and was a surprise pick for the tournament having only won a single cap prior to the start of 2024 in a 4-0 loss to Mexico nearly three years ago.
South Africa will rue missed chances in the 90 minutes, not least in the dying seconds when right back Khuliso Mudau fired over the bar with the goal gaping, but must now settle for a place in the bronze-medal match on Saturday.
Napoli striker Victor Osimhen won his side a penalty as he went down under the challenge of Mothobi Mvala, in what was an easy decision for Egyptian referee Amin Omar.
Troost-Ekong held his nerve to send his spot-kick down the middle of the goal to put them ahead in the 67th minute.
Nigeria thought they had a second on 85 minutes through Osimhen, but as they celebrated, the Video Assistant Referee alerted the on-field official to an earlier foul on Percy Tau in the Nigerian box.
Nigeria’s effort was chalked off and South Africa were awarded a penalty after a review, which Mokoena fired home before Mudau fluffed his golden chance to win it and the game went to extra time and penalties.
“Football can be hard when you see the performance of my team, and then there is penalties and you lose the game and are not in the final. It is hard to accept that, we played a very good game,” South Africa coach Hugo Broos said.
“It is a big disappointment, but I am very proud of my players. I think everyone now knows South Africa as a good team, and that is important.”