Nigeria edge South Africa in dramatic AFCON semi-final penalty shootout

Nigeria’s forward #9 Victor Osimhen (C) and teammates celebrate the victory at the end of the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 semi-final football match between Nigeria and South Africa at the Stade de la Paix in Bouake on February 7, 2024. Photograph: Issouf Sanogo / AFP

The Super Eagles of Nigeria are through to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) for the first time since winning the competition back in 2013 after battling through a pulsating penalty shootout in a thrilling semi-final encounter against South Africa.

After playing out to a 1-1 draw after regulation time and the ensuing 30 minutes of extra time, it was Nigeria who came out on top 4-2 on penalties with Kelechi Iheanacho stroking home the decisive penalty to send the three-time champions into Sunday’s showpiece against either hosts Cote d’Ivoire or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nigeria went into the lead in the 67th minute of the game through captain William Troost-Ekong from the penalty spot after Victor Osimhen was brought down in the 18-yeard area.

Teboho Mokoena thereafter put South Africa level on 1-1, also from the penalty spot, in the 90th minute after Alhassan Yusuf, who replaced Alex Iwobi on 63 minutes, fouled Percy Tau.

The penalty was awarded to the Bafana Bafana following a lengthy check by the Video Assistant referee (VAR) with the main referee also going to look at the monitor before giving it.

Before that though, there was a dramatic twist, as Osimhen thought he’d scored a second for Nigeria, only for the goal to be ruled out after VAR spotted a late tackle from Yusuf on Tau in the opposite penalty seconds earlier. That sensationally gave Bafana Bafana a late lifeline, and Mokoena held his nerve from the spot to level the scores in the final minute of the 90’.

And the South Africans could have won it in the dying seconds of stoppage time, but Khuliso Mudau blazed over with the goal at his mercy.

In the 115th minute of the game, which had gone into extra time, Terem Moffi, who replaced Osimhen, was through on goal before being brought down by Grant Kekana, who was also issued a red card.

The Super Eagles despite having a player more could, however, not score the winning goal as the match went into penalty shootout which saw Moffi, Kenneth Omeruo and Troost-Ekong net their spot kicks.

South Africa failed to convert two of their opening three spot-kicks, with Stanley Nwabili saving from Mokoena and Makgopa. And despite Ola Aina throwing away his penalty, Iheanacho kept his cool to score to help the Super Eagles win 4-2 and reach the final of AFCON 2023.