Defender William Troost-Ekong tapped in from a corner kick in the 89th minute to help Nigeria just beat Bafana Bafana 2-1 in the second Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) quarter-final at the Cairo International Stadium in Egypt on Wednesday, and knock them out of the tournament.
The Super Eagles defeated their bitter rivals for the first time since coach Stuart Baxter returned to Bafana in 2017.
Ekong’s strike helped them reclaim the lead after opening the scoring in the 27th minute via another simple tap in by Villarreal forward Samuel Chukwueze, before South Africa equalized in the second half through Bongani Zungu.
Gernot Rohr’s side advanced to the tournament’s semi-finals for the 14th time, while the win was also their 50th in the Cup of Nations.
Although the team was unchanged from the one that beat hosts Egypt just four days earlier, it was a far less aggressive South African team, attack-wise, which didn’t have too many goal scoring chances as a result.
The Super Eagles themselves didn’t produce that many chances, although they did have four more shots at goal than South Africa, who had just one, which was off target, at the end of the first half. But despite the fact, the Super Eagles’ only shot that was on target in the first half was the one that got them the opener, which was turned in by Chukwueze after the ball fortuitously landed on his path after coming off Buhle Mkhwanazi, who had blocked the initial shot.
The 20-year-old forward had pounced on a cutback by Arsenal midfielder Alex Iwobi, which was not picked up by any of the Bafana defenders.
The second Nigerian goal, which would have felt like a punch in the stomach for the South Africans, was as a result of goalkeeper Ronwen Williams mistiming the aerial ball, which went over him and landed on the foot of Ekong.
South Africa, meanwhile, needed the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to confirm that Zungu’s header was indeed a legitimate goal when it looked like one that was scored from an off-side position, in the 71st minute.
VAR showed that Percy Tau’s free kick had come off Odion Ighalo’s back and was not flicked on by captain Thulani Hlatshwayo, before being headed home by the Duduza-born midfielder.
The South African attack was subdued throughout the match, with none of the previous match’s hero Thembonkosi Lorch, Tau or Lebo Mothiba managing to really test Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi throughout the match.
In fact, only Tau managed to play the full 90 minutes between the three forwards, with Lorch being replaced by Themba Zwane in the second half, before Mothiba came off for Lars Veldwijk, which did not make too much of a difference in the dying stages of the match.
Nigeria joined Senegal, who beat Benin 1-0 in the early evening match, into the semi-finals.
On Thursday, Cote d’ Ivoire will play Algeria before Madagascar clash with Tunisia, in the final two quarter-finals.