The Super Eagles goalkeeper, Stanley Nwabali, clinched the Man of the Match award for his outstanding performance, saving two penalties and securing Nigeria’s spot in the final of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
Nwabali has showcased exceptional performance in the AFCON, conceding only two goals and establishing himself as arguably Nigeria’s standout player in the tournament to date.
The Chippa United goalkeeper has captivated the hearts of millions of Nigerians with his remarkable displays throughout the competition.
AFCON 2023: I want Super Eagles to face South Africa in semifinals – Nwabali
Before the clash against South Africa, Nwabali had expressed his interest to face South Africa in the semi-finals.
According to Nwabali, who plays in the South African Premier League, he’s familiar with South African players and would want to “test his defence” against them.
“Both Cape Verde and South Africa are good teams, but I want to play against South Africa,” Nwabali told reporters.
“I really wish to see how my defence will fare against them.
“Yes, most of their players know me, and I also know them.”
Nigeria reach AFCON final after shootout victory over South Africa
Kelechi Iheanacho, coming on as a substitute, secured Nigeria’s 4-2 victory in the penalty shootout against South Africa on Wednesday, following an exhilarating Africa Cup of Nations semi-final match in Bouake.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw after extra time, with the three-time champions now set to face either hosts Ivory Coast or the Democratic Republic of Congo, who will clash later, in the final on Sunday.
Both regular-time goals were converted penalties, with Nigeria’s captain William Troost-Ekong scoring in the 67th minute and Teboho Mokoena equalizing from the penalty spot in the 90th minute.
The equalizer by Mokoena occurred after Nigeria believed they had scored a second goal through a tap-in from star forward Victor Osimhen. However, play was halted and VAR intervened, alerting the Egyptian referee to a foul on South African Percy Tau in the penalty area. The referee agreed with the VAR decision.
In added time at the end of regular play, Khuliso Mudau had an opportunity to secure victory for South Africa, but he missed the target after goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali deflected a free kick from Mokoena.
South Africa finished the match with 10 players after Grant Kekana received a red card in the 115th minute for a last-defender foul.
Nigeria entered the match with an unblemished record against South Africa in the premier African football competition, having won all three previous encounters. The Super Eagles defeated Bafana Bafana 2-0 in a 2000 semi-final in Nigeria, 4-0 in a group match four years later in Tunisia, and 2-1 in a 2019 quarter-final in Egypt.
Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro made one change to the team that beat Angola 1-0, bringing in Bright Osayi-Samuel for left-back Zaidu Sanusi, who did not train on the eve of the match.
Star Napoli forward Osimhen started for the three-time champions after recovering from an abdominal discomfort that delayed his arrival in Bouake from Abidjan.
– Osimhen scare –
Some Nigerian supporters in the stadium expressed their backing for Osimhen by wearing replicas of the protective facial mask he has continued to wear three years after sustaining an eye socket injury.
Belgium-born South Africa coach Hugo Broos made one alteration following their penalty shootout victory over Cape Verde, with central defender Siyanda Xulu brought back into the starting lineup while Thapelo Morena was relegated to the bench.
South Africa registered an equal number of shots on goal but had more shots on target, greater possession, and earned more corners in a tense and lively first half.
Just a minute after kick-off, reigning African Player of the Year Osimhen knelt while clutching his abdomen, but he persevered after receiving treatment and put in a tireless effort.
When Nigeria, the pre-match favorites, were awarded a free-kick, Semi Ajayi’s header was easily saved by goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, who had previously saved four penalties in the shootout against Cape Verde.
Percy Tau had a couple of opportunities for South Africa, but his weak shot and later a heavy first touch let him down in front of a crowd of 32,000.
Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali, who plays for South African top-flight club Chippa United, made a commendable one-handed save to deny Evidence Makgopa as half-time approached.
With the Super Eagles dominating the game, the stalemate was broken midway through the second half when Mothobi Mvala fouled Osimhen, resulting in Troost-Ekong converting the penalty.
Makgopa narrowly missed the target with 15 minutes remaining as South Africa pushed for an equalizer in the central Ivorian city.
Subsequently, there was the disallowed goal by Osimhen, the equalizing goal by Mokoena, the missed opportunity by Mudau, and 30 minutes of intense extra time action, which included a red card for Kekana, before the match went to a shootout.