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Nigeria beat South Africa on penalties to reach AFCON final after VAR drama

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After defeating South Africa in a thrilling penalty-filled semifinal match, Nigeria advanced to their seventh Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON final.

In a 4-2 shootout victory, goalie Stanley Nwabali emerged as Nigeria’s hero, foiling the best attempts of Teboho Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa. However, the thrilling match featured unprecedented action, with VAR at the center of it all.

When Victor Osimhen added to William Troost-Ekong’s second-half penalty in the 85th minute, Nigeria appeared to have secured their spot in the championship game. However, referee Amin Omar was instructed to step in and stop the play.

A review of the goal revealed that Percy Tau of South Africa had been fouled within the penalty area at the beginning of the move, and Mokoena’s flawless shot from 12 yards changed the score from 2-0 to 1-1 in favor of Nigeria.

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Towards the end of extra time, South Africa’s Grant Kekana was also sent off, but Nwabali’s game-winning goal propelled the 2013 victors into yet another final.

Osimhen had been cleared to play before the game, but Siyanda Xulu’s tackle caused him to go down in pain just a minute into the game.

The Napoli forward managed to continue, but there was a calm first exchange of play.

After playing the better part of the first fifteen minutes on the back foot, South Africa saw their penalty claims rejected with twenty-seven minutes remaining. This was because Khuliso Mudau’s cross struck Fulham defender Calvin Bassey’s elbow, but Bassey had his arms tucked under his body.

With Tau wasting a good opportunity with a poor shot straight at Nwabali, South Africa was now well in the lead. A few minutes later, Tau came dangerously close to scoring again, but his touch was too heavy.

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After a strong start, Nigeria had failed to generate opportunities; nevertheless, toward the end of the first half, Osimhen gave a reminder of his menace by heading wide from a corner.

The Nigerian lucky charm turned away from Aubrey Modiba with a spectacular pirouette, charged into the area, and was tackled by Mothobi Mvala to win the first game.

With 67 minutes remaining, Troost-Ekong took the spot-kick duty and his weak attempt sailed under the body of South Africa’s hero from the last eight penalty shootout, Ronwen Williams. This broke the tie.

Makgopa missed a chance to tie the score as soon as South Africa attempted to do so, and then there was a spectacular return to normal time.


Williams first dove at Ademola Lookman’s feet after he was sent through on goal, but in the 85th minute, Osimhen scored at the back post to give Nigeria cause for celebration.

The Super Eagles were ecstatic, but their joy soon gave way to shock when referee Omar was instructed to examine the goal using VAR.

At the onset of the move, Omar was shown a replay of Nigerian substitute Alhassan Yusuf snagging Tau within the area, leading to the goal being disallowed and South Africa being given a penalty.

Mokoena calmly saved the match in the midst of chaos with 90 minutes remaining, but South Africa should have done better when Khuliso Mudau scored in the sixth minute of stoppage time with only Williams to beat.

Lookman tested Williams as Nigeria skillfully regrouped, and Osimhen’s snap was again fortunately saved.

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