Nigeria stepped gingerly into the Championship Match of the 34th Africa Cup of Nations after a turgid 120 minutes battle with South Africa that eventually went into a nail-biting penalty shootout in Cote d’Ivoire’s second city, Bouake on Wednesday.
The game ended 1-1 after extra time and the Super Eagles triumphed 4-2 after penalties.
It was dubbed the “Ampiano Derby’ but there was so much piggybacking on the game, and as the players stepped onto the turf of the Stade de la Paix, it was obvious that they were determined to fight a ‘war’.
Sphephelo Sithole got his leg to a through ball as the Bafana Bafana poured forward in the quarter-hour, but Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali would never be beaten that way.
Minutes later, Victor Osimhen and Ademola Lookman combined to pull something out of the chestnut, but the defenceline of Teboho Mokoena, Aubrey Mobida and Siyanda Xulu was very much on the alert.
Nwabali was again on the alert in the 28th minute to break the heart of Percy Tau, and nine minutes later, Alex Iwobi’s shot from the edge of the box was too feeble to rattle goalkeeper and captain Ronwen Williams.
In the 39th minute, Nwabali again denied Tau as the forward concocted a chip. At the other end, Osimhen failed to direct his header well when Ola Aina sped down the left and heaved the ball into the opposition box.
The match went on to produce a penalty each for Nigeria and South Africa, and both countries converted within regulation time. The scorelines remained 1-1 after extra time.
In the ensuing penalty shootout, Williams, who had saved four in the shootout against Cape Verde that saw the Bafana Bafana reach the last four, could not stop any of Nigeria’s kicks.
Only Ola Aina booted his kick over the sticks. Terem Moffi, Kenneth Omeruo, Ekong and Kelechi Iheanacho all scored, while Nwabali saved two of South Africa’s kicks and was duly named Man of the Match.
In the event, Nigeria will play in the Final of the continent’s flagship football competition for the eighth time.
The Super Eagles will take on tournament surprise team and hosts Cote d’Ivoire in the Final on Sunday night at the 60,000 – capacity Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Ebimpe, outside Abidjan.