Super Eagles edge out brave Bafana in AFCON thriller
It's heartbreak for Hugo Broos' men in the penalty shootout.
Nigeria’s defender #5 Nigeria’s William Troost-Ekong celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal. Picture: Issouf SANOGO / AFP
Bafana Bafana had their hearts broken again by Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations finals on Wednesday, losing 4-2 to the Super Eagles in a semifinal penalty shootout on a dramatic evening at the Stade La Paix De Bouake.
Kelechi Iheanacho netted the winning penalty past Ronwen Williams, sending the Super Eagles into ecstasy, with the Bafana goalkeeper unable to repeat the shootout heroics of a few days earlier in the quarterfinal against Cape Verde.
Bafana’s tournament is not yet over – they will play in the third-place play-off on Saturday – but it will be hard to pick themselves up after coming so close to making a first AFCON final in 26 years.
Teboho Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa were both denied by Chippa United’s Stanley Nwabali in the shootout, the Nigerian shot-stopper continuing an incredible tournament, having not played a competitive match for the Super Eagles before this tournament.
There was a scare for Nigeria in the opening minute as Xulu produced a fine tackle on Osimhen, and the Nigerian star striker went down with an apparent recurrence of the abdominal pain that had made him a doubt for the semifinal.
He was back on his feet soon after, however, and the Super Eagles had most of the early play, their high press forcing Bafana onto the back foot.
In the 14th minute, Ola Aina crossed from the left and Ronwen Williams got a vital touch to take the ball away from the head of Osimhen.
Slowly, however, Bafana began to pass their way through the Nigeria press, as well as also finding joy with long balls into the channels for Percy Tau and Evidence Makgopa.
In the 16th minute, Tau found Sphephelo Sithole on the edge of the box, but his shot was straight at Stanley Nwabali.
A slick passing move in the 28th minute saw Tau find Temba Zwane, who tried to pass to Makgopa, but the ball deflected into the path of Tau, who had only Nwabali to beat. The Al Ahly man, however, fired a tame shot straight at the Chippa United goalkeeper.
In the 35th minute, Aubrey Modiba sent Tau clear with a wonderful through ball, but a poor first touch meant Nwabili could gather.
Four minutes later, Tau produced a far better touch to delicately lay a long ball off for Makgopa, and his curled effort produced a fine save from Nwabili.
On the stroke of half time, Osimhen finally had a chance from a corner, rising above Mothobi Mvala, but heading the ball wide of the target.
igeria applied more pressure on the Bafana goal in the second half, but the South African defence stood firm, some solid tackling from Xulu and Mvala keeping the Super Eagles at bay.
Bafana looked dangerous on the break and Tau claimed a penalty as he went down in the box under Aina’s challenge, but it looked a fair challenge and no spot kick was awarded.
Osimhen then headed over again from a Bright Osayi-Samuel cross, before Nigeria made a double substitution in the 62nd minute, Samuel Chukwueze coming on for Alex Iwobi and Alhassan Yusuf replacing Moses Simon.
In the 64th minute, Nigeria won a penalty as Osimhen charged into the box and drew a late challenge from Mvala.
Troost-Ekong stepped up and slotted his penalty straight down the middle, the ball going under a diving Williams.
Bafana had to press forward more now and in the 75th minute they were inches from equalising as a fine move found Makgopa on the edge of the box and he spun and curled an effort just wide of the far post.
Ademola Lookman had a great chance to seal the win for Bafana, but Williams did brilliantly to save. And then came the most incredible moment of drama.
With five minutes of normal time on the clock, Nigeria seemed to have sealed the victory as they broke up the field and Osayi-Samuel crossed for Osimhen to tap in.
The Super Eagles celebrated widly, but Bafana were in the face of the referee, claiming a penalty for a foul on Tau. And a VAR replay showed that Yusuf had indeed kicked Tau in the back of the leg inside the box at the other end of the pitch.
Mokoena stepped up and drilled his penalty into the corner of the net.
Bafana were on top now, with Nigeria clearly rattled, and in the sixth minute of stoppage time, they nearly won it. Mokoena smashed a free kick from 35 metres out that Nwabali could only parry to Mudau, who blazed over the bar from six metres out.
In extra time, both sides pressed to try and find a winner, substitute Zakhele Lepasa failing to get a shot away after a mazy run, and Osimhen testing Williams with a rasping drive.
Osimhen had another wonderful chance in the first minute of the second half of extra time, rising to meet Aina’s cross, but heading over the bar.
Nigeria then took off Osimhen and brought on Nice striker Terem Moffi, and he burst clear on goal, only to be brought down by Grant Kekana. After another VAR replay, the foul was correctly adjudged to be just outside the box, but Kekana received a straight red card.
The game went to penalties and it was Nigeria who dragged themselves over the line.