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AFCON 2023: Nigeria find a way past South Africa via penalty kicks in enthralling semifinal duel

The Super Eagles of Nigeria persevered in a gripping semifinal duel at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday, defeating South Africa 4-2 in a penalty shootout after the teams played to a 1-1 draw at the Stade de la Paix in Bouaké. William Troost-Ekong opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the second half for Nigeria before Teboho Mokoena equalized late for South Africa with his own penalty kick under dramatic circumstances. In the end it was Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali who was the hero with two penalty kick saves in the shootout, sending Nigeria through to Sunday’s final where they will face the winner of the later clash between hosts Ivory Coast and DR Congo.

Nigeria began as the favorites but were befuddled by an excellent game plan from Bafana Bafana who disrupted the Nigerian midfield and created a couple of good chances in the first half. The first clear opportunity fell to Percy Tau in the 28th minute when his pass attempt was blocked back to the South Africa forward but he scuffed a weak shot that was easy for Super Eagles goalkeeper Nwabali. Nwabali did well to keep the match scoreless by halftime with a diving save on a curling effort from South Africa striker Evidence Makgopa.

The Nigerian team rallied after halftime and took control for the opening stretch which led to the opening goal in the 67th minute. Super Eagles star Victor Osimhen collected a pass outside the South African penalty area and accelerated into the box where he was tripped up by defender Mothobi Mvala. Troost-Ekong sent a low spot kick past diving South Africa keeper Ronwen Williams to put Nigeria ahead.

But the match was turned on its head in the final minutes of regulation when a Nigerian counter-attack led to a goal for Osimhen that appeared to put Nigeria beyond reach. However the Video Assistant Referee determined that a foul was committed on Tau just inside the Nigerian penalty area before the counter and instead of a goal for Nigeria, a penalty kick was awarded to South Africa that Mokoena dispatched with ease past Nwabali. In the final seconds of second half stoppage time South Africa should have won it when a Mokoena free kick was spilled by Nwabali to an onrushing Khuliso Mudau but the right back put his follow up effort over.

Knowing their strength at the goalkeeper position, South Africa played defensively in extra time and were almost punished late in the second half when Grant Kekana took down Nigeria substitute Terem Moffi just outside the box which resulted in a red card. Kelechi Iheanacho failed to score from the resulting free kick and penalties were needed to determine a winner.

After an outstanding performance by Williams in the penalty shootout victory over Cape Verde in the quarterfinals, it appeared South Africa were favorites to triumph. However, Nwabali had other ideas with a momentum boosting save on South Africa’s first attempt from Mokoena after Moffi converted the opening kick for Nigeria. Ola Aina fired over on Nigeria’s third attempt to give South Africa a chance to level but Nwabali came up big again to deny a tame effort from Makgopa and preserve an advantage that Nigeria would not give up until Iheanacho fired in the winning spot kick.

Match highlights and the full penalty shootout are below.

Match Highlights

Full Penalty Shootout

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