Nigerian supporters react as they watch at a mega-viewing centre the Africa Cup of Nations 2024 semi-final football match between Nigeria and South Africa, in Lagos on February 7, 2024. (Photo by Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP)
Afrobeats tunes competing with cheers, Nigerians celebrated a tense penalty victory over South Africa on Wednesday night as their team advanced to the Africa Cup of Nations finals after a scrappy semi-final match.
Substitute Kelechi Iheanacho handed Nigeria a 4-2 penalty shootout victory over South Africa after their knock-out game in Bouake, Ivory Coast.
The match ended 1-1 after extra time and Nigeria, the three-time African champions, will now face hosts Ivory Coast in the final on Sunday.
At the Tiger Bar in the Ikoyi district of Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos, the last penalty triggered an eruption of celebrations and dancing as their team secured a place in the continental finals.
“For a first time for a long time we are excited, we are happy Nigeria beat South Africa,” supporter Peace Nwanro said. “Nigeria will keep winning.”
Both regular-time goals came from penalties with captain William Troost-Ekong scoring after 67 minutes for Nigeria and Teboho Mokoena equalising from a spot-kick. One Nigerian goal was disallowed, adding to the drama.
“From the onset, I felt pressure,” said Nigerian caterer Kayode Qudus. “Many people are expecting more from them. Nigeria is not really happy these days, but I think this will fetch us more happiness… we must win.”
Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is struggling with high living costs after the government introduced economic reforms aimed at reducing spending and bringing in more foreign investment.
For some, the victory over South Africa in football also added to the rivalry between the African giants, after Nigerian performers like Burna Boy and Davido failed to win a Grammy at the recent music awards.
Nigerians dominated nominations for the new Best African Music Award category at the Grammy’s, but South Africa’s Tyla won the prize.
In Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic capital, supporters of tha national team “Bafana Bafana”, some dressed in the green, black and gold of the country’s flag, said they were still proud of their team.
“Right now, it’s bad. But we’re gonna forget, we will get back on our feet and we’ll try again,” Kenneth Mgipa, 53 said. “We need that cup.”
Whitney Langa, 37, said South Africa did not have what was needed to win.
“We had the opportunity, we were just not strong enough. Our team changed its game and now tries to play like European football,” she said. “But what we know is street football, we go fast and we get to the goal. We forgot who we are, that’s why we’ve lost.”
Others were more pragmatic pointing to the Grammy’s win and South African host Tevor Noah guiding the music awards as evidence of the country’s global influence, despite the football loss.
“We’ve just been very unfortunate. Penalties are any man’s game,” said Sello Phatoe, a businessman. “But there’s already a lot happening in our country: we won the Rugby world Cup, Tyla just won a Grammy and Trevor hosted.”
© Agence France-Presse