Nigeria’s Super Eagles have qualified for the African Cup of Nations final after defeating South Africa in Wednesday’s semi-final.
The match was decided on penalties after 120 minutes of football that ended 1-1.
The Super Eagles scored four of their penalties, while Bafana Bafana missed two of theirs.
The Super Eagles did not show their best football in the first half of this vibrant Afcon encounter. His performance was apparently affected by the absence of Zaidu Sanusi and Ola Aina’s slow adaptation to the left-back position.
Bafana Bafana capitalized on this imbalance and managed lofted passes over the Nigerian defence, while poor ball control by both defenders and midfielders provided attacking opportunities for the opponents.
With a five-man defense for South Africa when Nigeria attacked, José Peseiro introduced some new players, including Kelechi Iheanacho, in the second half. The coach needed one or two clever dribblers to break down the South African defence, which had been gaining confidence as the match progressed.
The South Africans excelled in exploiting short spaces in midfield, despite the efforts of Alex Iwobi and Onyeka to cover defensively.
South Africa was superior in the first half, with more ball possession, passes and shots on goal. But the Nigerian came forward strongly in the second half, putting pressure on the opposition and forcing a penalty that captain Williams Troost-Ekong converted.
But they couldn’t defend enough to close out the game in regulation time. In the 90th minute, Bafana Bafana won a penalty to tie the score. The match then went to extra time, but no goal separated two strong teams, from football-crazy countries with a history of intense rivalry.
In the end, the match had to be decided on penalties. The Super Eagles triumphed 4-2, sparking huge celebrations in 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. Previously, the Eagle won it in Nigeria (1980) and Tunisia (1994). It remains to be seen if the team will triumph again this time.