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By Fidel Ozugha and Jide Alaka

With the semi-final match between Super Eagles of Nigeria and Bafana Bafana of South Africa decided on penalties after 120 minutes of football ended in a dry 1-1, the penalty shootouts ended in 4-2 in favour of Nigeria.

The Super Eagles fired four of their penalties into the net of their opponents while Bafana Bafana missed two of theirs thus dismantling the myth built around goalkeeper William of Bafana Bafana.

Before arriving at the penalty shootouts the Super Eagles did not display their best football in the first half of this pulsating Afcon encounter. Their performance was seemingly affected by the absence of Zaidu Sanusi and Ola Aina’s slow adjustment to the left wing-back position.

Bafana Bafana capitalised on this imbalance, finding success with lofted passes over the Nigerian defence, while loose ball control from both defenders and midfielders provided attacking opportunities for the opponents.

With a five-man defence in place for South Africa when Nigeria attacked, Jose Peseiro introduced some new players, including Kelechi Iheanacho, in the second half. The coach needed one or two skilled dribblers to break through the South African defence, which had gained confidence as the match progressed.

The South Africans excelled in exploiting short spaces in the midfield, despite efforts from Alex Iwobi and Onyeka to cover defensively.

The Bafana Bafana was the superior side in the first half, boasting more ball possession, passes, and shots on target. But Nigerian came on strongly in the second half, pressuring the opponent and forcing a penalty which Captain Williams Troost-Ekong converted.

But they couldn’t defend enough to wrap up the game at regulation time. At 90th minute, Bafana Bafana earned a penalty with which they levelled scores to warn the Super Eagles that they meant business. The match then went into extra time but no goal came to separate the two strong sides from football-crazy countries and with a history of intense rivalry.

In the end, the match had to be decided by penalties. The Super Eagles triumphed 4-2, sparking wild celebrations across Nigerian cities and among Nigerians in the diaspora reminding one of warning by Nigeria Commission against such provocative celebrations in foreign lands.

This is the first AfCON final for the Super Eagles in 11 years. The team last won the AfCON tournament in 2013 in South Africa. Before then, the Eagle won it in Nigeria (1980) and Tunisia (1994). It remains to be seen if the team will triumph again this time around as they file against the host nation Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast that wobbled and fumbled at the preliminary stage arrived at this stage by eliminating hard fighting DR Congo

Former Hammer player, Sebastien Haller struck the winner as Ivory Coast kept their dream of lifting their first AFCON title on home soil alive courtesy of a 1-0 victory over DR Congo in a keenly-contested semi-final in Abidjan.

The hosts, who were a whisker away from being eliminated in the group stage, are now one step from being crowned Kings of the continent for a third time after producing one of their most assured displays of the tournament.

DR Congo were appearing in their first semi-final since 2015 and thought they had made the perfect start when Cedric Bakambu nodded in from close range, but the goal was chalked off for a foul on goalkeeper Yahia Fofana.

Ivory Coast grew as the half wore on and were unlucky not to go in ahead at the interval following a flurry of late chances. First, Haller flashed a free header wide before Franck Kessie struck the post with a low shot from the right edge of the area.

The second period was a tight affair but the hosts broke the deadlock on 65 minutes when Borussia Dortmund forward, Haller saw his volley crash into the turf before looping over Lionel Mpasi into the net.

DR Congo pushed for a late equaliser but could not manufacture an opening as their bid for a first title since 1974 came to an end.

A vessel conveying crude oil arrested by Tantita, Military in Bayelsa State

If the match between Nigeria and Ivory Coast was tough, the one coming on Sunday in Abidjan between Nigeria and the host nation, Ivory Coast will be a ‘war’. Eleven players of the Ivorians will be in the pitch against opponents but the stadium will be filled to the brim with home players supporters cheering them and booing the Super Eagles. So it will be final, real final. May the better team win.

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