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Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali was named Man of the Match in their semi-final victory over South Africa

African Cup Of Nations

Nigeria and hosts Ivory Coast set to reignite rivalry in Africa Cup of Nations final

Three-time winners Nigeria were given a scare but reached the Africa Cup of Nations final after goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali saved two penalties in the shootout to guide his side to a 4-2 victory over South Africa after a 1-1 draw.

Nigeria had lost five of their previous six semi-finals at the continental finals and rode their luck in this one to book a place in Sunday’s decider against hosts Ivory Coast.

William Troost-Ekong put Nigeria into the lead from the penalty spot midway through the second half, before South Africa earned a spot-kick of their own in the final minute of the 90 and it was converted by Teboho Mokoena.

South Africa lost defender Grant Kekana to a red card in extra time as Nigeria put them under constant pressure, and then lost their nerve too in the shootout as Nwabali saved from Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa.

“It was a very good victory against a very good team, the most organised team at the tournament. We deserved to win, but they (South Africa) deserved to win too,” Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro told reporters.

“We were better in the penalty shootout, so my players deserve it. The team fought well.”

Nwabali plays his club football in South Africa at topflight side Chippa United and was a surprise pick for the tournament having only won a single cap prior to the start of 2024 in a 4-0 loss to Mexico nearly three years ago.

South Africa will rue missed chances in the 90 minutes, not least in the dying seconds when right back Khuliso Mudau fired over the bar with the goal gaping, but must now settle for a place in the bronze-medal match on Saturday.

Napoli striker Victor Osimhen won his side a penalty as he went down under the challenge of Mothobi Mvala, in what was an easy decision for Egyptian referee Amin Omar.

Troost-Ekong held his nerve to send his spot-kick down the middle of the goal to put them ahead in the 67th minute.

Nigeria thought they had a second on 85 minutes through Osimhen, but as they celebrated, the Video Assistant Referee alerted the on-field official to an earlier foul on Percy Tau in the Nigerian box.

Nigeria’s effort was chalked off and South Africa were awarded a penalty after a review, which Mokoena fired home before Mudau fluffed his golden chance to win it and the game went to extra time and penalties.

HALLER STRIKE FIRES IVORY COAST INTO ‘THEIR’ FINAL

Sebastien Haller (photo by CAF/X)

Sebastien Haller scored the winner as 2023 Africa Cup of Nations hosts Ivory Coast beat DR Congo to set up a final meeting with Nigeria.

The only goal of a cagey contest in Abidjan came in the 65th minute when Haller’s volley bounced down into the ground and up over Leopards goalkeeper Lionel Mpasi.

The Borussia Dortmund striker should have opened the scoring just before the break with an unmarked header, and Haller also missed a chance to double the lead when he sent a lob narrowly wide.

DR Congo did not look like getting a late equaliser, although Meschack Elia sent a volley wide of the left-hand upright and Simon Banza then fired well over in injury time.

Ivory Coast had sacked Jean-Louis Gasset as boss before scraping through the group stage, and had needed late goals against both Senegal and Mali to progress to the last four.

But interim boss Emerse Fae now has a chance to guide the Elephants to a third continental title, adding to their triumphs in 1992 and 2015, when they face three-time winners Nigeria in Abidjan on Sunday evening.

Credit: AIPS Media

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