William Troost-Ekong’s late winner on Wednesday sent Nigeria through to the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations after a tense 2-1 victory over South Africa in Cairo.
Samuel Chukwueze fired the Super Eagles ahead in the first half in front of a healthy, largely pro-Nigeria crowd at the 75,000-seat Cairo International Stadium.
However, Bongani Zungu’s looping header brought South Africa level on 70 minutes, the goal awarded with the aid of video assistant referee (VAR) — introduced for the first time at the tournament from the quarter-final stage onward — after it was initially ruled out for offside.
Centerback Troost-Ekong then turned home at a corner a minute from time to set three-time champions Nigeria up with a clash against Algeria or Ivory Coast for a spot in the final on Friday next week.
Leftback Jamilu Collins made his first appearance in Egypt after shaking off a pre-tournament injury, while Villarreal forward Chukwueze came in for Moses Simon in Nigeria’s offense.
Stuart Baxter stuck with the same side that shocked hosts Egypt in the last round, as match-winner Thembinkosi Lorch retained his place, despite Themba Zwane’s return from suspension.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr had suggested that South Africa were favorites in the buildup following their defeat of the record seven-time champions, a tag Baxter promptly rejected with Bafana Bafana’s lone competitive win coming in qualifying for these finals.
Odion Ighalo’s goals have been the driving force behind Nigeria’s run, but it was emerging young forward Chukwueze, coming off a solid debut season in Spain’s top flight, who struck just before the half-hour to end the impasse.
Alex Iwobi skipped past a couple of defenders down the left before pulling back for Chukwueze, who swept into the corner as the ball trickled back his way after a first shot was blocked.
Following a stodgy first half, Nigeria appeared the far sharper side after the break, Peter Etebo rattling the crossbar with a superb free-kick destined for the top corner but for the fingertips of Ronwen Williams.
A number of promising attacks fizzled out for Nigeria and their lack of precision came back to haunt them when Zungu hauled South Africa level, nodding back across goal after a Percy Tau set-piece was shown upon a video review to have been flicked on by Ighalo.
However, after their stunning elimination of Mohamed Salah’s Egypt, there was to be no follow-up act from South Africa as Williams flapped at an in-swinging corner and Troost-Ekong forced over the line to clinch victory for Nigeria.
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