Super Eagles of Nigeria qualified for the semi finals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with a 2-1 win over South Africa at Cairo International Stadium on Wednesday night.
Striker Odion Ighalo was the man to watch for Nigeria. The former Watford forward, who currently plays for Chinese club Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, enjoyed arguably his finest moment in a Super Eagles shirt last Saturday, scoring twice and setting up another goal in the 3-2 win over holders Cameroon to reach the last eight.
Egypt were gone. So too holders Cameroon. and Morocco. Nigeria started as strong favourites.
The game took place at the 75,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium which will host the final on 19 July. Some of the fans who bought tickets expecting to see Egypt decided to come and watch.
South Africa looked very comfortable. They only made it through the group stage as one of the best four third-placed teams
There was an early yellow to Bafana Bafana and Lebo Mothiba was on dodgy ground. The South Africa player received a yellow for attempting to rip the shirt off Chidozie Awaziem’s back.
Super Eagles raced in front on 27 minutes. Alex Iwobi showed a much-needed injection of pace before delivering a perfect cross for Samuel Chukwueze whose first attempt came off a defender before burying the rebound into the back of the net.
Iwobi scored the winner to knock holders Cameroon out in the last round. The Arsenal man supplied the ammunition which put Nigeria within sight of a semi-final spot.
Having made a sluggish start, Nigeria began to boss the game and South Africa’s defence had to deal with wave after wave of attacks.
Ahmed Musa showed some absolutely terrifying pace to the South Africa defence. The combination of him and Alex Iwobi baffled Bafana Bafana.
First half ended 1-0 in favour of the three-time African champions.
South Africa poured out in numbers and were left open at the back.
Captain Thulani Hlatshwayo earned Nigeria a free-kick – and picked up a yellow card for his troubles – after a crunching challenge on Odion Ighalo.
From the resulting free-kick, Oghenekaro Etebo curled it over the wall and forced goalkeeper Ronwen Williams to push it on to his bar.
Samuel Chukwueze, who impressed on his return to the starting XI, sent the ball fizzing across South Africa’s six-yard area. Unfortunately there was no team-mate to turn it over the line.
South Africa on level terms in the 72nd minute. Bongani Zungu sent a wonderful header into the net following a set-piece but immediately there was a VAR check. Replays showed the ball came off the back of Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo before Zungu planted his header.
VAR is already making a huge impact at AFCON. It had only been introduced at the quarter-final stage and already Sadio Mane has had two goals disallowed for Senegal – and South Africa were awarded a goal.
South Africa lost two of their three group games. They were five minutes away from forcing extra-time in a game where the winners will be one victory from the final.
There was incredible drama, heartbreak for South Africa and utter joy for Nigeria in the 89th minute. A lovely corner was whipped in by substitute Moses Simon and keeper Ronwen Williams missed his punch allowing William Troost-Ekong to score off his knee.
It was jaw-dropping drama inside the Cairo International Stadium. South Africa equaliser came out of nowhere after a VAR check followed by an 89th minute goal to put Nigeria back ahead.
South Africa forgot the first rule of defending set play – whatever you do, don’t leave a man unmarked in the centre of the penalty area. Just don’t do it.