William Troost-Ekong’s spot-kick in normal time had looked like sending the Super Eagles through without further stress, particularly when Victor Osimhen then turned the ball home with five minutes remaining.
That goal though was chalked off though, and South Africa awarded a penalty of their own for a foul in the build-up. Teboho Mokoena converted to force extra time, where South Africa had to play the final few minutes with ten men to take it to penalties, after Grant Kenana’s red card.
Mokoena could not repeat the trick in the shootout and while Ola Aina blasted his penalty over the bar, Evidence Makgopa then found Stanley Nwabili in his way to hand the advantage back to the Super Eagles. Iheanacho had the chance to win it, and did just that to set up a final against either Ivory Coast or DR Congo.
It was always like to be a nervy semi-final, between two sides who went into the match having kept four consecutive clean sheets at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Kelechi Iheanacho sends Nigeria into the AFCON final! 🥳🇳🇬 pic.twitter.com/relS0WBS1c
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) February 7, 2024
There was little in the way of clear-cut chances before half-time, Makgopa going as close as anyone when his curling effort was tipped away by Stanley Nwabili.
But Nigeria improved after the break, pushing South Africa back and building the pressure, with Osimhen threatening to open the scoring as he headed over at the back post.
The goal came midway through the second-half, Osimhen unsurprisingly involved. He drifted past the challenges, drove into the box and went down as Mothobi Mvala stuck out a leg and tripped him.
Captain Troost-Ekong stepped up, to face a goalkeeper in Ronwen Williams who saved four penalties in the South Africa’s quarter-final shootout win over Cape Verde. He could well have saved this one too, but Troost-Ekong’s spot-kick crept underneath him and into the back of the net.
The Super Eagles controlled the match well from that point and thought they had taken doubled their advantage with five minutes remaining, as Osimhen turned the ball home from a couple of yards out after good work from Osayi-Samuel.
But a VAR check deemed that Percy Tau had been fouled in the box at the other end in the build-up, as the referee returned from the monitor to disallow Osimhen’s goal and award South Africa a penalty in a remarkable turn of events.
That gave Mokoena the opportunity to equalise and, as the clock ticked into the 90th minute, he made no mistake from the spot.
South Africa piled on the pressure deep into stoppage-time and should really have won it, as Mokoena’s free-kick was parried out and Khuliso Mudau blasted over the rebound with the goal at his mercy.
Terem Moffi was introduced with ten minutes of extra time remaining, replacing Osimhen, and almost immediately he was clean through on goal. Kekana brought him down just outside the box, and although the referee initially waved play on, the South Africa defender was shown a straight red card after a VAR review.
Bafana Bafana held on to make it to penalties, but they fell agonisingly short in their bid to reach a first AFCON final in 26 years, as Nigeria moved a step closer to ending their 11-year wait for glory.