Nigeria and South Africa battled it out for a spot in the semifinal of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, with the Super Eagles running out narrow 2-1 winners in the keenly contested match at the Cairo International stadium.
Goals from Samuel Chukwueze and William Troost-Ekong were enough to see Gernot Rohr’s men through to the last four where they would now face one of either Cote d’Ivoire or Algeria in a bid to win the title. In this piece, we shall be highlighting four talking points from the match.
#1 South Africa failed to come to the party
South Africa started their 2019 Nations Cup somewhat poorly by their standards, losing two of their opening three group stage matches and only made it to the round-of-16 as one of the best losers.
However, they gave a much-improved performance in the next round against Egypt, showing great class and finesse to eliminate The Pharaohs in front of their fans.
On the strength of their display against Egypt, it was expected that they would continue in that form against Nigeria, but that proved not to be the case, as despite controlling much of the possession, they failed to make many inroads, with their play limited to just harmless sideways passing.
They failed to truly test Daniel Akpeyi in the Nigerian goal, having just two shots on target for the entirety of the match while big hitters like Percy Tau and Lebo Mothiba conspicuously failed to make an impact.
#2 Nigeria shows class and dominance
The Super Eagles are one of the most illustrious names on the African footballing scene and with three Afcon victories and an Olympic Gold medal, they are also one of the most successful international sides. To add to this, their five triumphs at the Under-17 World Cup level is the most of any country on the planet at that stage.
However, they have massively faltered in recent times, failing to qualify for three of the last four editions of the Africa Cup of Nations and this underperformance has led to a love-hate relationship between the national team and their fans.
Having won their opening two games against Burundi and Guinea, Nigeria fell to a 2-0 defeat to surprise package and debutants Madagascar to finish second in Group B.
As expected, fans were quick to express their disappointment on social media, with many calling for the sack of coach Gernot Rohr.
However, it only takes one victory to bring back the smiles to the faces of the Nigerian fans and this proved to be the case in the next round as the Super Eagles came from behind to defeat Cameroon.
Against South Africa though, they arguably gave their most complete performance in recent memory, as they dominated proceedings from start to finish.
Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi were their usual boisterous selves in the middle of the park while Alex Iwobi acted as an efficient linkup between midfield and attack.
Out wide, Ahmed Musa and especially Samuel Chukwueze shone brightly, while central defender Troost-Ekong also popped up with a goal. The one dark spot on Nigeria’s performance was that Odion Ighalo did not really make much impact on the match overall.
Nigeria are one of the favourites to go all the way in Egypt and on the evidences of their display against the South Africans, they can be confident in their ability
#3 VAR makes a crucial intervention
Having been successfully implemented around the world over the last two years, Africa was rather slow to embrace the new technology of VAR, only introducing it in the final of the 2019 CAF Confederations Cup between Zamalek and RS Berkane in May. The situation turned controversial due to the technology being nonfunctional, causing the match to be abandoned and subsequently ordered to be replayed.
Ahead of the 2019 Afcon, CAF announced that VAR would only be used from the quarterfinal stage onwards and technology played a central role in the first fixture of the round between Senegal and Benin Republic where it helped overturn two goals by Sadio Mane.
In the game between South Africa and Nigeria, South Africa had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside, but VAR review showed that the ball came off the back of Odion Ighalo before being headed in by Bongani Zungu.
While VAR might have had its own fair share of controversies, it was spot on in awarding a perfect goal to South Africa.
#4 Samuel Chukwueze justifies the hype
Heading into this tournament, a certain Samuel Chukwueze had earned rave reviews for his displays with Villareal in LaLiga.
The 20-year-old had starred for the Yellow Submarines, making 25 league appearances and scoring five goals while also catching the eye with his some notable displays especially against Barcelona where he took established defenders like Samuel Umtiti to the cleaners.
His form has pegged him down as one of the brightest youngsters to watch out for and he has reportedly drawn interest from clubs around Europe including Liverpool.
However, Nigerian coach Gernot Rohr seemed to not trust him much, dropping him to the bench after the first match against Burundi. This was a decision which day drew consternation from the Nigerian fans and saw Chukwueze start in the round-of-16 clash against Cameroon where he was excellent.
His good form in that game saw him handed another start against South Africa and he justified his inclusion, needing only 27 minutes to open the scoring after some good work on the left by Alex Iwobi. Other than the goal, the Nigerian also proved a recurring thorn in the flesh of the South African defence with his constant runs out wide.
Samuel Chukwueze has been identified as a star of the future and judging by his displays at the Afcon so far, he is very well on the way to reaching the lofty heights expected of him.