Nigeria 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 on Wednesday.
— Leanne Manas (@LeanneManas) February 7, 2024
Nigeria had lost five of their previous six semi-finals at the continental finals but survived some nervous moments to book a place in Sunday’s decider against either hosts Ivory Coast or the Democratic Republic of Congo, who meet later on Wednesday.
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.
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.
But he has been a revelation having only conceded two goals in his side’s six games and earned them a first final place since they lifted the Cup of Nations trophy in 2013.
Hold your heads up high @BafanaBafana. You played your hearts out. You fought gallantly till the end. You made your presence felt at #AFCON2023 and were excellent ambassadors for the country. You’ve made us proud at AFCON! #BafanaPride pic.twitter.com/zSQIbh7ioG
— Minister of Sport, Arts & Culture (@zizikodwa) February 7, 2024
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.
It is a seventh win for Nigeria in 16 continental semi-finals after they had advanced from only one of their previous six, seen as something of a curse for the side.
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 referee to an earlier foul on 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.
South Africa centre back Kekana was sent off before the shootout when he was the last defender and brought down Terem Moffi on the edge of the box.