President Muhammadu Buhari Wednesday night in Abuja congratulated the Super Eagles for what he described as another spectacular outing, which he said confirmed Nigeria’s progress to the next level in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Egypt 2019. The president said with a well-deserved victory over the Bafana Bafana of South Africa, he was of the belief, like millions of other football-loving Nigerians, that Nigeria would accomplish the mission of winning the trophy for the fourth time.
A statement by his spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the president urged the team and their handlers to remain focused, disciplined and scale the remaining two hurdles to glory.
“He affirms that the crop of players in the national football team represent the resilient and indomitable Nigerian spirit, which must be reflected in all other areas of national life. President Buhari assures the players that Nigerians are praying for them to fly higher and get to the peak of the tournament, knowing that the taste of victory is sweet and what they have achieved so far is pleasing to Nigerians irrespective of ethnic, religious or political inclination,” the statement added.
On the field of play, it was a cagey affair until Super Eagles defender, William Troost-Ekong’s late winner sent Nigeria through to the semi-finals 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 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 the three-time champions Nigeria up with a clash against Algeria or Ivory Coast for a spot in the July 19 final. 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.
Stuart 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. Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr had suggested South Africa were favorites 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 coming in qualifying for these finals.
Odion Ighalo’s goals have been the driving force behind Nigeria’s run 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. Alex Iwobi skipped past a couple of defenders down the left before pulling back for Chukwueze, who swept into the corner as the ball trickled back his way after a first shot was blocked.
Following a stodgy first half Nigeria appeared the far sharper after the break, Peter Etebo rattling the crossbar with a superb 25-yard- free-kick destined for the top corner but for the fingertips of Ronwen Williams. A number of promising attacks fizzled out for Nigeria and their lack of precision came back to haunt them when Zungu hauled South Africa level, nodding back across goal after a Percy Tau set-piece was shown upon a video review to have been flicked on by Ighalo.
But after their stunning elimination of Mohamed Salah’s Egypt there was to be no follow-up act from South Africa as Williams flapped at an inswinging corner and Troost-Ekong forced over the line to clinch victory for Nigeria.