Kelechi Iheanacho sealed Nigeria’s place in the final of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations with a decisive penalty, leading to a 4-2 shootout victory against South Africa.
The match in Bouake concluded 1-1 after an eventful conclusion to regular time. A Victor Osimhen goal that would have put Nigeria 2-0 ahead was disallowed by the referee, who, instead, awarded a penalty to South Africa after consulting the video monitor.
In the 90th minute, Teboho Mokoena successfully converted the penalty, forcing the game into an extra-time period that remained goalless. Bafana Bafana defender Grant Kekana was later sent off during this extended period.
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Despite Mokoena being one of the two South African players whose penalty kicks were saved by goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali, the Super Eagles emerged victorious, securing their spot in the final. They are set to face Ivory Coast on Sunday, who secured their place by defeating DR Congo.
William Troost-Ekong had initially opened the scoring for the West Africans with a penalty in the second half. As Nigeria aims for their fourth continental title and their first since 2013, Troost-Ekong, the team’s captain, will play a pivotal role in their pursuit of glory.
Nigeria entered the match with an impeccable Nations Cup record against South Africa, having emerged victorious in all three of their previous encounters, including a semi-final clash in 2000 in Lagos.
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Despite the spirited encouragement from the enthusiastic green and white-clad supporters, Jose Peseiro’s team failed to meet expectations as favorites in a lackluster first half, largely dominated by South Africa. Forward Percy Tau had a golden opportunity but scuffed his shot directly at Nwabali while unmarked in the penalty area.
Nigeria’s offensive struggles were evident in the statistics, with African Footballer of the Year Osimhen managing only nine touches in the first half, including a header that went wide just before halftime. The momentum shifted dramatically in the second half as Nigeria emerged with renewed intent.
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Osimhen missed one of several promising headed opportunities, and Frank Onyeka’s attempt went wide. The Super Eagles finally broke the deadlock in the 67th minute when Osimhen’s penetrating run was abruptly halted inside the penalty area by a clumsy challenge from defender Mothobi Mvala.
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Similar to the group stage victory against Ivory Coast, it was captain Troost-Ekong who took the penalty instead of Osimhen. The former Watford defender confidently placed his shot down the middle and under the legs of Ronwen Williams, the shootout hero for South Africa in the quarter-final against Cape Verde, as the goalkeeper dived to his left.
Despite a close attempt by Evidence Makgopa for South Africa, Ademola Lookman had a chance to seal the win for Nigeria. However, he hesitated while attempting to round Williams, allowing the goalkeeper to dive at his feet and gather the ball.