A late strike from Nigerian defender William Troost-Ekong broke Bafana Bafana hearts on Wednesday evening and handed the Super Eagles a place in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations semifinals.
Ronwen Williams was culpable in the build up to Nigeria’s winner, the Bafana ‘keeper flapping at a corner with just two minutes left, enabling Troost-Ekong to provide the easiest of finishes, giving Gernot Rohr’s side a 2-1 win at the Cairo International Stadium.
Bafana had seemed to at least be taking the game to extra time, as Bongani Zungu’s header, with a bit of help from VAR, cancelled out Samuel Chukwueze’s opener.
Bafana Bafana head coach Stuart Baxter chose the same team that had triumphed against Egypt, picking Orlando Pirates forward Thembinkosi Lorch again, even though Themba Zwane was available after suspension.
Nigeria, however, were never going to allow South Africa the kind of space they were afforded by the Pharaohs, and Baxter’s side went back into the kind of creative coma they were in for most of the group stages.
Sifiso Hlanti was lucky to escape at least a yellow card early on for a poor, over-the-top challenge on Chidozie Awaziem, while Lebo Mothiba did got into the referees book for a far less serious shirt pull.
Nigeria were the more aggressive side, even if they didn’t really look like creating much, until they did find a route to goal in the 28th minute.
Alex Iwobi did well to beat Thamsanqa Mkhize and cross from the left wing, and while Chukwueze’s first effort was blocked, the ball broke again for the Villarreal winger and he slotted into the back of the net.
Nigerian captain Ahmed Musa was booked for a foul on Mkhize, but while Bafana got a few set pieces in dangerous situations, they could not capitalize.
Chukwueze, indeed, might have doubled Nigeria’s lead but for a brilliant last-ditch challenge from Dean Furman.
Thulani Hlatshwayo, the Bafana captain, was next into the referee’s book, clattering into the back of Odion Oghalo in the 48th minute. From the resultant free kick Oghenekaro Etebo fired in a great shot that was tipped onto the bar by Williams.
In the 53rd minute, Ahmed Musa burst pass the Bafana defence, but his cross was turned behind by the valiant Furman.
Baxter brought on Zwane to replace the ineffective Lorch, and slowly, Bafana did find a way back into the game, finally posing a threat to Daniel Akpeyi’s goal.
And in the 71st minute, Bafana drew level. Percy Tau’s free kick seemed to be headed on by a Bafana player, for Zungu to head home in an offside position. But replays showed that the ball had come off Ighalo’s back, and after the intervention of VAR, the goal stood.
Bafana were back in it, but in the end, Nigeria’s late show stole the day.