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VICTORY FORETOLD AS EKONG BUNDLES NIGERIA INTO AFCON SEMI FINAL.

‘Seye Akanmu-Bode.

Statistics are not everything especially in football , and could be misleading. Madagascar beating Nigeria or Benin dumping out Morocco have shown just that.However,they still point the way to empirical analysis and offers football pundits the benchmark to make effortless analysis of matches pre or post. This was exactly what happened prior to the Nigeria vs South Africa quarter final match last night in Cairo,Egypt. For a country that had not lost to South Africa in any Afcon meeting, semi final appearances since 1980 except in 2008,the Super Eagles were the favourites to win the game and after 90 minutes of a gruelling match, it was a Semi final ticket for the Nigerian team.

Samuel Chukwueze revelling in his first international goal for Nigeria .

The match was a difficult one for the Eagles and this was captured by coach Rohr who said the team was “lucky” to come out victorious. If it was difficult for Nigeria,it was more difficult for the South Africans especially in the first half who were caught between thrusting the ball high up and high pressing their opponent to defensive submission. They however met a brickwall as the defense was very stout ,shielding Akpeyi from any major test. In fact,in the first half , South Africa got behind the Nigerian defence just once but not even enough to threaten the goal keeper.

Villareal whiz kid, Chukwueze had a somewhat quiet first half as he was made to track the marauding South Africans. Despite his quietness,he still put himself in a goalscoring area when he whizzled past the defence to give Nigeria the opener. Alex Iwobi had nutmegged a defender to send a dangerous ball to the box which met Chukwueze whose first touch was deflected initially but his mental alertness meant he was quickest to do a follow up and then side kicked past goalkeeper Romwen Williams to make history as the youngest scorer in the Afcon 2019.

Then the Eagles adopted a patient build up,hoping to capitalise in the opponent’s mistakes. We could have indeed if Ahmed Musa had been more decisive,though he had the better of his marker on most occasions. The second half began with the South Africans dominating possession greatly with the Eagles contented to catching them on the breaks. Chukwueze in the second half became the tormentor in chief of the Bafana Bafana as he was a constant threat combining his sublime skills with his pace which most times left his markers in sixes and sevens. A performance which earned him the Man of the match award.

Samuel with his Total MOTM plaque

As the game went on with the South Africans pressing the game to get an equalizer, in between ,Nigeria was looking for a goal to cement the victory. Etebo played a fantastic freekick that was brilliantly saved the goalkeeper. Then the moment of VAR. Percy Tau’s freekick was nodded in by Bongani Zungu which the linesman adjudged as off side. A VAR replay showed the ball hitting the back of Ighalo to connect Zungu,thus the referee awarded the goal. It was game on! From then on,it was all South Africa as the Eagles looked a bit dejected conceding the goal. The introduction of Moses Simon for Ahmed Musa was a tactical master stroke.Not only that he continued from where Musa stopped, one of his adventures gave the corner that led to the winning goal. It looked as if the game was heading into the extra time.However, a corner kick in the 89th by Simon was missed by goalkeeper Williams and Troost was alert to bundle it in the net for a Nigerian winner. It was a winning goal indeed as Nigeria held on for 4 minutes of added time to book a semi final ticket.

Nigerian players in ecstasy after Troost got the winning goal.

What next? Nigeria faces either Ivory Coast of Algeria in the Semi Final on July 14.

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