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Nigeria secures a place in AFCON final after close contest with South Africa

Nigeria took the final step and qualified for the AFCON final after a fiercely contested contest between themselves and South Africa boiled down to a penalty shootout in which goalkeeping heroics and indescribable composure secured the victory for Nigeria.

Nigeria vs South Africa featured two of the heavyweight footballing sides in AFCON and certainly didn’t disappoint. Despite a slow start from both sides, the action was well and truly there in the final 45 minutes of the game seeing a red card, a goal chalked off and a penalty being given in the process and penalty shootouts, it was an outstanding example of African football at its finest.

Bar an Osimhen chance in the first 40 seconds, an actionless first half-hour came to an end when South Africa was blessed with a glorious opportunity to put themselves ahead in the tie, as Percy Tau found himself with the goal at his feet, but his effort was comfortably saved by Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali, much to the disappointment of the home nations fans on 29 minutes.

A second chance for South Africa went missing as Nwabali made a fantastic save just before half-time, as Evidence Makgopa’s curling effort was thought to be destined for the far corner, but the Nigerian shot-stopper reached across and palmed away the shot.

The two sides went into the break goalless but South Africa finished the half stronger with the most clear-cut chances despite a last-gasp effort from Victor Osimhen who headed just wide on the brink of half-time.

Nigeria came out of half-time looking the stronger side, with chances to put the game in their hands but nothing comes despite the consistent pressure from the get-go.

A penalty in the 67th minute opened the scoring for the game with Nigerian captain Williams Troost-Ekong putting the penalty away, sending South Africa goalkeeper Williams the wrong way before slotting the ball down the centre of the goal to make it 1-0.

Nigeria kept piling on the pressure but couldn’t make it count for goals and suffered a scare again from Makgopa who found space on the edge of the area only to send his ferocious shot just wide of the post.

The 85th minute is where it all gets interesting when Nigeria break on the counterattack it ends with Victor Osimhen tapping the ball into the South African net which for all the world to see was Nigeria going 2-0 and the game essentially over.

However, after a lengthy VAR check, the goal is disallowed and instead, a penalty is awarded to South Africa for a foul at the very beginning of the counterattack…unbelievable.

South Africa grabbed their lifeline with both hands and Teboho Mokoena smashed the penalty home after what was thought to be Nigeria ending the game, South Africa found themselves level with mere minutes until the whistle blew.

Despite a heroic attempt at finding a winner from South Africa who pummelled the Nigeria defence after their equaliser and had a golden opportunity squandered by Teboho Mokoena, the teams ended the 90 minutes level which saw the game go to extra time.

Nigeria had the better of the extra time with some great chances to go ahead in the game and with South Africa losing Gomolemo Kekana to a red card, Nigeria were going for the win before it got to penalties.

An exciting penalty shootout saw Nwabali become a hero, saving two penalties before Kelechi Iheanacho sent Nigeria into the AFCON final, crushing the dreams of the South African players and fans who believed they could go all the way in the tournament.

Nigeria will go on to play home nation Ivory Coast in the AFCON final which promises even more excitement to this spectacular competition.


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