Nigeria are through to the AFCON final after a dramatic penalty shootout win against South Africa with the Super Eagles prevailing 4-2 on penalties following a captivating 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.
At the Stade de la Paix in Bouake on Wednesday, this semi-final produced twists and turns fitting of any Nollywood thriller.
Nigeria looked to have won it when Victor Osimhen scored late on, only for VAR to instead award South Africa a lifeline penalty.
Bafana Bafana converted to force extra time before penalties ensued.
There, goalkeeping heroics from Stanley Nwabali gave Nigeria the edge in the shootout. His two saves booked the Super Eagles’ passage to Sunday’s final.
As Nwabali wheeled away in celebration, joy unconfined for Nigeria, this was agony for South Africa.
Bafana Bafana’s keeper Ronwen Williams – who saved four penalties last round – was inconsolable as his AFCON dream died.
Nigeria will face either Cote d’Ivoire DR Congo on Sunday, hoping to capture their fourth African crown.
Nigeria made the early running in a cagey first half. The lively Iwobi brought the best from Williams, whose reflex save kept things goalless. South Africa responded in kind, Evidence Makgopa curling just wide before Percy Tau was thwarted when clean through.
The tension ratcheted after the break as both keepers took center stage. Nwabali acrobatically denied Makgopa once more, while at the other end Williams stood firm to repel Osimhen.
That set the scene for high drama in the closing stages. Nigeria earned a 67th minute penalty when Osimhen was flattened, which Troost-Ekong converted emphatically.
Sensing blood, a frenzied Nigeria pressed for the killer second. They thought they had it through Osimhen, but VAR intervened to spot an earlier foul. South Africa were awarded a lifeline penalty instead, dispatched by Mokoena.
So to extra time, where fatigue stifled attacking fluency. With legs heavy and nerves jangling, a shootout felt inevitable. Williams and Nwabali then took the spotlight.
While Williams correctly guessed the direction of two Nigerian penalties, his hands couldn’t match his intuition. Nwabali showed no such mercy, diving to deny both Mokoena and Mayambela.
As Nigeria soak up the raptures of reaching the final, Williams is left inconsolable. Four days ago he was the hero, now South Africa’s brokenhearted goalkeeper.
Nigeria now stand one win away from a fourth African crown. Propelled by Nwabali’s shootout brilliance, Sunday’s final sees them as a strong contenders for the title.