Nigeria 1 (4) South Africa 1 (2)
Abidjan, Ivory Coast | THE INDEPENDENT | The pressure is on for Nigeria as they seek football immortality in the AFCON 2023 final. The Super Eagles take on Cote d’Ivoire or DR Congo eying a fourth continental title on Sunday.
Having swept past South Africa on penalties in a drama-filled semi on Wednesday, Nigeria now stand on the cusp of greatness. Victory would cement their status as one of AFCON’s most successful nation.
With 3 previous titles in 1980, 1994 and 2013, Nigeria can go joint fourth title with their arch rivals Ghana while Egypt and Cameroon are in the lead.
Doing so would cap a dominant tournament for Nigeria. They have won 5 of 6 games so far, spearheaded by stars Victor Osimhen and Ademola Lookman.
Osimhen especially knows a defining performance could await. The Napoli hotshot has consistently led Nigeria’s charge, but his only goal came back in the group stage.
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.
Hosts Cote d’Ivoire or DR Congo stand in their way, hoping to spoil the party in front of home crowds. But Nigeria carry momentum, belief and a steely winning mentality under manager Jose Peseiro.
After falling short in four previous finals, Peseiro is urging his squad to seize the moment. The Super Eagles appear laser-focused with history within touching distance.
No matter Sunday’s outcome, Nigeria have lit up AFCON 2023. Playing with flair, unity and humble modesty, they have won admirers worldwide.
Now the Super Eagles stand on the brink of history. Bring home the trophy and they will forever be remembered as legends in Nigeria.
How Nigeria advanced
At the Stade de la Paix in Bouake on Wednesday, this semi-final produced twists and turns fitting of any Nollywood thriller.
Nigeria looked to have won it when Victor Osimhen scored late on, only for VAR to instead award South Africa a lifeline penalty.
Bafana Bafana converted to force extra time before penalties ensued.
There, goalkeeping heroics from Stanley Nwabali gave Nigeria the edge in the shootout. His two saves booked the Super Eagles’ passage to Sunday’s final.
As Nwabali wheeled away in celebration, joy unconfined for Nigeria, this was agony for South Africa.
Bafana Bafana’s keeper Ronwen Williams – who saved four penalties last round – was inconsolable as his AFCON dream died.
Nigeria will face either Cote d’Ivoire DR Congo on Sunday, hoping to capture their fourth African crown.
Nigeria made the early running in a cagey first half. The lively Iwobi brought the best from Williams, whose reflex save kept things goalless. South Africa responded in kind, Evidence Makgopa curling just wide before Percy Tau was thwarted when clean through.
The tension ratcheted after the break as both keepers took center stage. Nwabali acrobatically denied Makgopa once more, while at the other end Williams stood firm to repel Osimhen.
That set the scene for high drama in the closing stages. Nigeria earned a 67th minute penalty when Osimhen was flattened, which Troost-Ekong converted emphatically.
Sensing blood, a frenzied Nigeria pressed for the killer second. They thought they had it through Osimhen, but VAR intervened to spot an earlier foul. South Africa were awarded a lifeline penalty instead, dispatched by Mokoena.
So to extra time, where fatigue stifled attacking fluency. With legs heavy and nerves jangling, a shootout felt inevitable. Williams and Nwabali then took the spotlight.
While Williams correctly guessed the direction of two Nigerian penalties, his hands couldn’t match his intuition. Nwabali showed no such mercy, diving to deny both Mokoena and Mayambela.
As Nigeria soak up the raptures of reaching the final, Williams is left inconsolable. Four days ago he was the hero, now South Africa’s brokenhearted goalkeeper.
Nigeria now stand one win away from a fourth African crown. Propelled by Nwabali’s shootout brilliance, Sunday’s final sees them as a strong contenders for the title.
Ivory Coast 1 DRC 0
How Ivory Coast advanced
Hosts Cote d’Ivoire are through to the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations final after beating DR Congo 1-0 thanks to Sebastien Haller’s goal.
Haller was the matchwinner in Wednesday’s semi-final, superbly flicking in Nicolas Pepe’s cross to break Congolese hearts.
His goal has thus knocked the Leopards out, setting up this fascinating clash in Sunday’s final.
For Haller, facing Nigeria with a trophy on the line represents a remarkable twist of fate. The Borussia Dortmund hitman has established himself in the Elephants after recovering from testicular cancer
Now the 29-year-old returns intent on breaking Nigerian hearts. Haller will spearhead the Cote d’Ivoire attack alongside Pepe as they target a historic triumph.
Victory would spark jubilation in Abidjan given this AFCON is on home soil. After struggling in their group, the Elephants have momentum despite unconvincing performances.
Against DR Congo they rode their luck, with Cedric Bakambu having a goal disallowed. But Haller’s quality shone through as he rifled home to book Cote d’Ivoire’s passage.
Nigeria will prove a sterner test, especially with Haller’s former teammates seeking vengeance. But in this form, the striker threatens to inspire Ivory Coast to their first AFCON crown since 2015.