The Super Eagles have qualified for the quarterfinals of the ongoing African Nations Championship after beating hosts South Africa 3-1 at the Cape Town Stadium. The win gave Nigeria six points from three matches.
The Eagles, who needed a win to progress from Group A, started slowly but improved as the game wore on. It was the South Africans who threatened first in the fourth minute when Bernard Parker shot straight into the hands of Nigeria’s goalkeeper and captain Chigozie Agbim.
The Nigerians did little to test Moeneeb Josephs in goal for South Africa as their opponents threatened again in the 19th minute when the under-fire Nigerian goalkeeper saved a header off a corner kick. Nigeria’s first real chance of the match resulted in the first goal. It came in the 22nd minute when Ejike Uzoenyi scored after a pass had found him in the box from Ifeanyi Ede.
The goal fired up the Eagles, who seemed to have gotten over the shaky start they had to the tournament, as they doubled their lead in the 32nd minute after Gbolahan Salami had been brought down in the box by Josephs. Ede stepped up and dispatched the resultant penalty kick to bring his tournament tally to two goals.
The Nigerians kept up their impressive performance in the second half. Bafana Bafana also tried to reduce the scoreline and brought themselves back into the match but were denied by the reinvigorated Agbim. Nigeria completed the rout in the 64th minute when Uzoenyi, who got the Man of the Match award for the second match running, scored a beautiful left footer after a good team movement by the Nigerians. Uzoenyi was not done as he hit the bar six minutes later after another lovely footwork from the Nigerian team.
Solomon Kwambe was sent off in the 73rd minute after he was given a straight red card for a foul on an opponent. Almost immediately afterwards South African captain, Vuyo Mere, was also sent off in the 75th minute after a second bookable offence leaving both teams to play the rest of the match with 10 men each.
The host nation got a consolation in the 82nd minute when Bernard Parker scored from the penalty spot.
Nigeria thus qualified behind Mali, who saw off the whipping boys of the group, Mozambique, 2-1, to garner seven points from three matches and will meet the group B leader in the quarter-final match to be played on Friday.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi praised the resilience of the players and their confident display in spite of the tension which accompanied the match.
“They fought like wounded lions and were very confident and different from the shaky start they had in the first match,” Keshi told SuperSport.
A disappointed South African coach, Gordon Igesund, praised the Nigerians for their display.
He said, “The Nigerians were physically better than us and they won the balls and scored the goals. They deserved to win.”
Nigeria’s two goals hero and man of the match, Uzoenyi, believes that his team can reach the final.
“We are mentally strong and we will improve as the competition goes on. I strongly believe we can go far,” he said.