Nigeria vs South Africa: Where AFCON 2024 semi-final was won and lost

Nigeria have been a different beast at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024) and have so far lived up to expectations at the tournament.

Some might even say they have exceeded expectations after qualifying for the final on Wednesday, February 7, having beaten South Africa on penalties.

It was one of those games where both teams needed more than just talent or tactics to win; it demanded heart, grit and composure from 12 yards.

In the end, the Super Eagles reigned supreme by edging Bafana Bafana 4-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in regulation and extra time, with costly misses from Teboho Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa.

Where AFCON 2024 semi-final was won and lost

Below, we take a look at where the game between Nigeria and South Africa was won and lost:

Peseiro’s substitutions spot on

Jose Peseiro had been under the spotlight before the start of the AFCON due to his questionable in-game decisions and tactical set-ups.

However, he has barely put a foot wrong in Ivory Coast and against Bafana Bafana, his substitutions were once again spot on.

AFCON 2024: Super Eagles deserve to be in final, says Peseiro
Photo by Icon Sport

Unlike Hugo Broos who made just three changes even when it was evident his players were tired after running around for 120 minutes, Peseiro made use of all six substitutions, including the extra change afforded him during extra time.

It’s fair to say Nigeria had fresh legs during extra time and were the better side towards the end of the game, while all the players who came on also scored their penalties.

South Africa punished for wastefulness 

South Africa will look back at this result and feel hard done by. But the truth is they can only blame themselves after wasting so many chances that came their way.

Bafana Bafana were the better side in the first half but saw the likes of Percy Tau and Makgopa all miss some great opportunities.

Even with the game deadlocked at 1-1, they had a great chance to win it at the death after Mokoena’s free-kick had been parried back into play by goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali, but Khuliso Johnson Mudau skied the rebound over the bar.

Williams fails to recreate penalty heroics 

Ronwen Williams was the hero when South Africa defeated Cape Verde on penalties in the quarter-finals, saving four penalties in the shootout.

Ronwen Williams impressed again against Nigeria
Photo by Icon Sport

The 32-year-old’s performance in the previous game meant many South Africans were confident going into another shootout against Nigeria in the semi-finals.

However, he could not replicate his heroics and didn’t even save a single kick as the Super Eagles put four past him. That is not to say Ronwen wasn’t brilliant during the game. On the contrary, he made several saves to keep Bafana Bafana in the game but it just happened that Nigeria’s penalty takers were too good on the night.

Nwabali stands tall during penalties 

Another pivotal moment in the game was Stanley Nwabali’s impressive performance between the sticks during the penalty shootout.

Not many Nigerians had seen the Chippa United goalkeeper in action in a shootout and so there were doubts over whether he could stand up to the test.

Those fears were quickly allayed when he saved Teboho Mokoena’s penalty to start the shootout on a high. That important save set the tone for the rest of the Nigerian players and Nwabali would go on to save another penalty from Evidence Makgopa to hand the Super Eagles victory.

It’s now very likely that Nwabali will win the golden glove at the AFCON. It’s been four clean sheets in six games at the tournament and he keeps getting better and better. And for those who didn’t know he could save penalty kicks, I guess they have their answer now. 

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Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is an African sports writer, with bylines on DW, Al Jazeera, World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.