Nigeria booked their spot in the final of the Africa Cup Of Nations in Ivory Coast after goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali saved two penalties in the shootout to lead his side to a 4-2 win over South Africa following a 1-1 draw on Wednesday.
The three-time winners had lost five of their past six semi-finals rounds at the continental finals, but endured a few frightening moments to book a spot in Sunday’s decider against Ivory Coast on Sunday February 11.
William Troost-Ekong put Nigeria into the lead from the penalty spot halfway through the second half, before South Africa also procured a spot-kick in the last minute of the 90 minutes and was expertly converted by Teboho Mokoena.
Although Victor Osimhen thought he had scored to give Nigeria a 2-0 lead, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) determined that South Africa received a penalty instead for an earlier foul.
South Africa lost defender Grant Kekana to a red card in additional time as Nigeria put them under steady tension, and afterward lost their nerve too in the shootout as Nwabali saved from Mokoena and Proof Makgopa.
Nwabali plays his club football in South Africa at topflight side Chippa United together and was an unexpected pick for the competition having just won a solitary cap before the beginning of 2024 in a 4-0 loss to Mexico three years ago.
Be that as it may, he has been a revelation having giving out only two goals in his side’s six games and procured them a first final spot since they lifted the Cup of Nations in 2013.
South Africa will now settle for a place in the bronze-medal match on Saturday.
Nigeria’s seventh victory in 16 continental semifinals comes after they had only won one of their previous six games, which was seen as a curse for the team.
Napoli striker Osimhen won his side a penalty as he went down under the challenge of Mothobi Mvala, in what was a simple choice for Egyptian ref Amin Omar.
Troost-Ekong held his nerve to send his spot-kick down the center 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 observed, VAR cautioned the on-field official to a previous foul on Tau in the Nigerian box.
Nigeria’s effort was just brushed off and South Africa were granted a penalty after a review, which Mokoena scored before Mudau lightened his brilliant opportunity to win it and the match went to additional 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.”