Nigeria secured a place in their eighth Africa Cup of Nations final after a dramatic penalty shootout victory over South Africa, with goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali emerging as the hero.
Nwabali made crucial saves from Teboho Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa in the 4-2 shootout win, adding an extra layer of intensity to an already extraordinary clash which VAR played a pivotal role.
Initially, Nigeria appeared to have booked their spot in the final when Victor Osimhen tapped home in the 85th minute, adding to William Troost-Ekong’s second-half penalty.
However, the joyous moment was disrupted as VAR intervened, revealing that South Africa’s Percy Tau had been fouled at the start of the move. The score shifted from 2-0 to 1-1 as Mokoena converted the resulting penalty.
The drama continued into extra time, with South Africa’s Grant Kekana receiving a red card towards the end. Nwabali’s heroic saves in the penalty shootout propelled the 2013 winners into another final.
Osimhen, declared fit ahead of the match, faced an early scare with a tackle by Siyanda Xulu, but he continued to play. The opening period was relatively quiet, with both teams struggling to create clear chances.
South Africa had a penalty appeal waved away when Calvin Bassey’s arms were tucked into his body as Khuliso Mudau’s cross hit him. Tau had opportunities but squandered a promising position with a weak shot, and Nigeria’s Osimhen headed wide from a corner.
The deadlock was finally broken when Osimhen won a penalty after a brilliant run, and Troost-Ekong’s spot-kick found the back of the net.
South Africa pushed for an equalizer, and Makgopa made an effort wide before the dramatic turn of events in the 85th minute.
Lookman’s goal celebration turned to disbelief when VAR reviewed a previous incident, leading to the disallowance of Osimhen’s goal and a penalty awarded to South Africa. Mokoena converted from the spot to level the score.
In extra time, Nwabali made crucial saves, and South Africa’s Kekana received a red card after a VAR review showed a foul on Moffi just outside the area.
The match culminated in penalties, where Nwabali’s brilliance and Kelechi Iheanacho’s composure secured Nigeria’s place in another final.