Nwabali’s Heroics Send Super Eagles To AFCON Final On Sunday

  • Beat South Africa 4-2 on penalties

BY VICTOR OSOWOCHI – Two spectacular saves from Keeper Stanley Bobo Nwabali helped Nigeria beat South Africa 4-2 on penalties to reach the final of this year’s African Cup of Nations (AFCON) competition in Cote d’Ivoire.

In an encounter that produced twists and turns fitting of any Nollywood thriller inside the Stade de la Paix in Bouake on Wednesday evening, the Super Eagles prevailed following a captivating 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.

With either host, Ivory Coast or DR Congo to confront in the final, Nigeria now stand on the cusp of greatness and victory would further cement their status as one of AFCON’s most successful nations.

Captain Fantastic Troost Ekong celebrates

The Super Eagles’ three (3) previous titles were in 1980, 1994, and 2013. So, they can go joint fourth title holders with their arch-rivals Ghana while Egypt and Cameroon are leading the pack of countries with the most crowns.

Nigeria dominated early proceedings but struggled to pick holes in South Africa’s well-organised rearguard even as the Bafana Bafana targeted the spaces behind the Nigerian defence and looked the more dangerous side going forward.

Resuming the second 45 minutes after the first half ended goalless, Nigeria was on the ascendancy and eventually went in front when captain William Troost-Ekong scored from the penalty spot following a foul on reigning African Football of the Year, Victor Osimhen in the 69th minute.

However, drama played out on 85 minutes when the Super Eagles looked to have sealed the match after Osimhen hit the back of South Africa’s net in a terrific counter. However, VAR brought play back to the start of the move, finding that Alhassan Yusuf had fouled Percy Tau, and as the clock ticked over the 90-minute mark, Teboho Mokoena scored from the spot to stalemate matters.

Both sides pushed for a winner in extra time but neither managed. In the resulting shootouts, though Ola Aina missed Nigeria’s third penalty, Mokoena, Evidence Makgopa and Mothobi Meal missed South Africa’s first, third and fourth kicks to send the Super Eagles into the tournament’s final come Sunday, February 12, 2024.

As Nigeria aim to turn consistent performers into AFCON immortals, Osimhen’s big-game pedigree may prove pivotal. A match-winning display would elevate him into Nigerian folklore.

But host nation, Ivory Coast or DR Congo stand in their way, hoping to spoil the party in front of home crowds. For now, Nigeria carry momentum, belief, and a steely winning mentality under Coach Jose Peseiro.

After falling short in four previous finals, Peseiro is urging his squad to seize the moment and the Super Eagles appear laser-focused with history within touching distance.

No matter Sunday’s outcome, Nigeria have lit up AFCON Cote d’Ivoire 2023. Playing with flair, unity and humble modesty, they have won admirers worldwide.

Now the Super Eagles stand on the brink of history. Bringing home the trophy will forever see them being remembered as legends in Nigeria’s football history.

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