Cairo — Nigeria moved into the semi-final at the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday night following a 2-1 victory over South Africa.
Gernot Rohr’s men matched the South Africans for directness and defensive solidity but were more threatening on the counter down the left where skipper Ahmed Musa produced his usual trickery.
However it was the dazzling feet of Alex Iwobi which created the opening goal.
He shuffled the ball past bewildered defenders along the left wing and stroked it into the box. Samuel Chukwueze’s instant shot was blocked but he pounced on the rebound to stab home past the South Africa goalkeeper Ronwen Williams.
Nigeria almost doubled their advantage shortly after the restart. Oghenekaro Etebo swept a free-kick over South Africa’s defensive wall towards Williams’ top right hand corner but he managed to push the ball onto the bar and away to safety.
Bongani Zungu then emerged as South Africa’s hero. Following Wilfred Ndidi’s foul on Themba Zwane, Percy Lau curled in a free-kick from the right. Nigeria, more robust lately in dead ball situations, failed to clear their lines and Zungu looped his header past Daniel Akpeyi in the Nigeria goal.
But the South African celebrations were cut short when the srike was ruled for off-side. After a three minute delay for a review from the video assistant referee, the referee signalled parity at 1-1..
As extra time loomed, Williams undid his team. He flapped at a corner and William Troost-Ekong prodded into a gaping net.
“We were lucky in the end to score this second goal because in the second half South Africa played much better,” said Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr.
Rohr’s counterpart, Stuart Baxter, admitted his side had been too timid at the start of the encounter. “We got better,” he added. “We were more mobile and had better possession in the second-half. We gave them more problems but we couldn’t find that strike on goal.”
Nigeria will take on Algeria or Cote d’Ivoire on Sunday in the semi-final in Cairo in their quest to lift the Cup of Nations trophy for a fourth time..
“What I like about my team is that they never give up,” added Rohr. “They never get down. They come back in the last minutes, it’s fantastic. This spirit can bring us very far in this tournament.”