CAIRO (AFP) – William Troost-Ekong’s late winner sent Nigeria through to the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations early yesterday after a tense 2-1 victory over South Africa in Cairo.
Samuel Chukwueze fired the Super Eagles ahead in the first half in front of a healthy, largely pro-Nigerian crowd at the 75,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium.
But Bongani Zungu’s looping header brought South Africa level on 70 minutes, the goal awarded with the aid of video assistant referee (VAR) – introduced for the first time at the tournament from the quarter-final stage onwards – after it was initially ruled out for offside.
Centre-back Troost-Ekong then turned home at a corner a minute from time to set three-time champions Nigeria up with a clash against Algeria or Ivory Coast for a spot in the July 19 final.
“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.
“We’re happy, we have to recover well because the next game, either Algeria or Ivory Coast will be very difficult also.”
South Africa boss Stuart Baxter admitted the nature of the defeat was tough to digest.
“It’s difficult when you’ve lost a game in the dying minutes, it’s difficult to find positives. I’m sure in one week’s time I will find some positives, but at this moment I’m finding it very difficult,” he said.
Left-back Jamilu Collins made his first appearance in Egypt after shaking off a pre-tournament injury while Villarreal forward Chukwueze came in for Moses Simon in the Nigerian attack.
Baxter stuck with the same side that shocked hosts Egypt in the last round, as match-winner Thembinkosi Lorch retained his place despite Themba Zwane’s return from suspension.
Rohr had suggested South Africa were favourites in the build-up following their defeat of the record seven-time champions, a tag Baxter promptly rejected with Bafana Bafana’s lone competitive win over Nigeria coming in qualifying for these finals.
Odion Ighalo’s goals have been the driving force behind Nigeria’s run here but it was emerging young forward Chukwueze, coming off a solid debut season in Spain’s top flight, who struck just before the half-hour to end the impasse.