Kelechi Iheanacho clinched the winning penalty, propelling Nigeria into the final of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations with a 4-2 shootout victory over South Africa.
The showdown in Bouake ended 1-1 after an eventful conclusion to regular time, during which the referee consulted his video monitor to annul a Victor Osimhen goal that would have put Nigeria ahead 2-0, instead awarding South Africa a penalty.
Teboho Mokoena successfully converted the penalty in the 90th minute, leveling the game and sending it into extra time, where Bafana Bafana defender Grant Kekana was red-carded in the closing moments.
However, Mokoena was one of two South African players thwarted by goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali during the penalty shootout, securing the Super Eagles’ advancement to Sunday’s final against Ivory Coast, who defeated DR Congo.
William Troost-Ekong had earlier netted a penalty for the West Africans in the second half, setting the stage for Nigeria’s pursuit of their fourth continental title and their first since 2013.
Nigeria boasted an unblemished Nations Cup record against South Africa, having triumphed in all three of their prior encounters, including a semi-final clash in 2000 in Lagos.
Despite spirited support from the green and white-clad fans, Jose Peseiro’s squad struggled to assert dominance in a sluggish first half largely controlled by South Africa.
Forward Percy Tau squandered their best opportunity, misfiring his shot directly at Nwabali when left unmarked in the penalty area.
𝙏𝙊 𝙏𝙃𝙀 𝙁𝙄𝙉𝘼𝙇! 🚨
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Nigeria’s offensive shortcomings were evident, with African Footballer of the Year Osimhen managing just nine touches in the half, including a missed header just before halftime.
However, the momentum shifted dramatically in the second half as Nigeria emerged with renewed vigor.
Osimhen squandered several promising headed opportunities before Frank Onyeka’s shot missed the mark.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 67th minute when Osimhen was brought down inside the penalty area by defender Mothobi Mvala.
In a repeat of the group stage victory against Ivory Coast, Troost-Ekong confidently converted the penalty, securing the lead for Nigeria.
Late drama ensued when Osimhen’s apparent game-winning goal was disallowed after a VAR review, leading to a penalty for South Africa due to an earlier foul on Tau.
Mokoena capitalized on the opportunity, leveling the score and preventing Nigeria from securing five consecutive clean sheets.
South Africa had a chance to seize victory in the added time, but Khuliso Mudau missed the mark after Nwabali parried Mokoena’s free-kick.
Iheanacho’s decisive penalty in the shootout secured Nigeria’s victory after Nwabali saved efforts from Lookman and Osimhen during extra time, ensuring their spot in the final.