Nigeria’s Super Eagles have qualified for the final of the African Cup of Nations after defeating South Africa in Wednesday’s semi-final clash.
The match was decided on penalties after 120 minutes of football ended 1-1.
The Super Eagles scored four of their penalties while Bafana Bafana missed two of theirs.
The Super Eagles did not display their best football in the first half of this pulsating Afcon encounter. Their performance was seemingly affected by the absence of Zaidu Sanusi and Ola Aina’s slow adjustment to the left wing-back position.
Bafana Bafana capitalised on this imbalance, finding success with lofted passes over the Nigerian defence, while loose ball control from both defenders and midfielders provided attacking opportunities for the opponents.
With a five-man defence in place for South Africa when Nigeria attacked, Jose Peseiro introduced some new players, including Kelechi Iheanacho, in the second half. The coach needed one or two skilled dribblers to break through the South African defence, which had gained confidence as the match progressed.
The South Africans excelled in exploiting short spaces in the midfield, despite efforts from Alex Iwobi and Onyeka to cover defensively.
South Africa was the superior side in the first half, boasting more ball possession, passes, and shots on target. But Nigerian came on strongly in the second half, pressuring the opponent and forcing a penalty which Captain Williams Troost-Ekong converted.
But they couldn’t defend enough to wrap up the game at regulation time. At 90th minute, Bafana Bafana earned a penalty with which they levelled scores. The match then went into extra time but no goal came to separate the two strong sides from football-crazy countries and with a history of intense rivalry.
In the end, the match had to be decided by penalties. The Super Eagles triumphed 4-2, sparking wild celebrations across Nigerian cities and among Nigerians in the diaspora.
This is the first AfCON final for the Super Eagles in 11 years. The team last won the AfCON tournament in 2013 in South Africa. Before then, the Eagle won it in Nigeria (1980) and Tunisia (1994). It remains to be seen if the team will triumph again this time around.
Madukwe B. Nwabuisi is an accomplished journalist renown for his fearless reporting style and extensive expertise in the field. He is an investigative journalist, who has established himself as a kamikaze reporter.