Nigeria soared into the semi finals of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations finals after an unlikely William Ekong winner two minutes to full time at the Cairo International Stadium on Wednesday night.
Bongani Zungu scored in the 70th minute as the ball hit the back of Super Eagles’ forward and tournament top scorer Odion Ighalo from a free kick, to cancel out a Samuel Chukwueze strike in the 26th minute that had kept Nigeria on top all evening. But Ekong popped up at the far post to slam the ball into an empty net as goalkeeper Ronnie Williams and his entire defence missed the ball from substitute Moses Simon’s corner.
No doubt, the game lived up to its billing as a confrontation between two fierce rivals, with both teams sizing each other up in the early minutes and being very cautious in their approach. But Nigeria were quicker off the blocks, with Ahmed Musa guilty of a poor pull out and midfielder Wilfred Ndidi watching his shot sail narrowly over the bar in the 5th minute.
As the game wore on, Samuel Chukwueze tried to stamp his authority on the right wing, combining beautifully with defender Chidozie Awaziem. In the 26th minute, Alex Iwobi sold a dummy and cantered to the right side of the Bafana Bafana defence, before a sharp cut-back for Chukwueze, whose first shot was blocked. But the young forward followed up and snatched the rebound, and then slotted past Williams for Nigeria’s first goal.
The atmosphere was electric at the Cairo International Stadium, with the near 20,000 fans all rooting for the Super Eagles. But Musa, on a counter attack, failed to make it count with a poor cross, and then Chukwueze himself concocted a poor finish from Ahmed Musa’s pass with 10 minutes left before interval.
In the second half, Oghenekaro Etebo rocked Williams’ crossbar from a 25 –yard free kick, and Musa and Chukwueze had their hands on their heads from missed opportunities, before South Africa equalized somewhat fortuitously in the 70th minute.
The ball hit the back of forward Odion Ighalo from Percy Tau’s free kick as Nigeria massed to defend, and flew to Zungu, who directed his header to the far corner and beyond a flat footed goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi.
Yet, Nigeria would make hay late, with Ekong’s winner, and now the Super Eagles await the winner of the tie between Algeria and Cote d’Ivoire in the semi finals at the Cairo International Stadium.
In the first semi final, Senegal’s Lions of Teranga (1-0 winners of Benin Republic in the first quarter final match on Wednesday) will take on the winner of the Madagascar/Tunisia match.