Nigeria get there in the end! Victor Osimhen sees winner dramatically cancelled out by VAR awarding South Africa a penalty before Kelechi Iheanacho keeps his cool to send Super Eagles to AFCON final on spot kicks

Victor Osimhen Nigeria

Nigeria reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday after a tense semi against South Africa which went the distance.

Tell me more

Victor Osimhen threatened to miss Wednesday’s crunch fixture and Nigeria fans will have reeled in horror at the sight of him clutching his abdomen mere seconds into the match. But the Napoli talisman deemed himself fit to continue and made his mark in the second half. After several near-misses with his head, the African Player of the Year used his feet to leave the Bafana Bafana defence perplexed. Namely, Mothobi Mvala, who couldn’t deal with Osimhen’s pace and clattered the striker, leading to a clear penalty. As he did against Ivory Coast, captain William Troost-Ekong stepped up, squeezing his spot kick underneath the sprawling Ronwen Williams.

Osimhen thought he had rounded out his fine performance with a late tap-in but a VAR check caused incredible drama in Bouake. The Napoli star’s strike was ruled out and South Africa were awarded a penalty following substitute Alhassan Yusuf’s rash challenge. Teboho Mokoena duly dispatched and set up some nervy closing stages for Nigeria, who clung on before an end-to-end extra-time period. Grant Kekana was sent off late on for South Africa after another VAR check, with penalties ultimately needed to separate the two sides. Kelechi Iheanacho was the hero as Stanley Nwabali starred in goal to send the Super Eagles through.

Did you know?

Nigeria progress to their first AFCON final since 2013, when they beat Burkina Faso 1-0 thanks to a Sunday Mba strike. That was their third continental crown after wins in 1980 and 1994.

The mvp

From almost missing the match to having a starring role in Nigeria reaching the final, Osimhen was crucial to Nigeria’s victory on Wednesday. The Napoli man recovered not only from an injury scare but also a fairly drab first half before exploding in the second period. His energy and tenacity was too much for the South Africa defence to handle and he needed just one moment of quality to make a crucial contribution. Osimhen hasn’t been on red-hot form this tournament, but he stepped up to the plate here. That said, Nigeria couldn’t have reached the AFCON final without goalkeeper Nwabali, who was the hero in the shoot-out.

The big loser

However, Osimhen’s and Nigeria’s efforts were almost undone by Yusuf‘s baffling challenge. The Antwerp midfielder was brought on for Alex Iwobi late on and was rarely threatened until the closing stages of regulation time. His rash challenge on Tau from behind was somehow missed by the on-field officials, but Yusuf was afforded no such sympathy on second viewing. Nigeria had been cruising until that point – adding a second shortly after the challenge – but descended into panic and chaos after Mokoena’s penalty. Yusuf’s rash tackle was almost a huge turning point, but he was ultimately let off the hook.