AFCON2019Q: Super Eagles qualify for AFCON 2019

AFCON2019Q: Super Eagles qualify for AFCON 2019

Nigeria’s senior national team the Super Eagles on Saturday qualified for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament despite having to contend with poor refereeing decisions in their 1-1 draw with hosts South Africa.

With the Nigerians having failed to reach Africa’s flagship tournament since they won it on the same turf that hosted Saturday’s game in 2013, the importance of the game against South Africa – who also could not afford a loss – led to some of Africa’s best referees being placed in charge but the young men from The Gambia snatched victory in the hands of their fellow West Africans.

Both teams would welcome the result in the end – a 1-1 draw which fairly represented what both countries deserved from the game – but two key refereeing decisions could have proved costlier had Nigeria gone on to lose against the Bafana Bafana who dominated possession.

Nigeria were wrongfully denied the lead in the eight minute when captain Ahmed Musa was adjudged to have been in an offside position while racing onto Alex Iwobi’s pass. Musa would then square for Iheanacho who tapped into an empty net but assistant referee Omar Tarboe’s flag was up already.

The Eagles were however not to be denied a minute later. Samuel Kalu, playing in an unaccustomed right wing back position found himself in a good area and saw his cross ricocheting off defender Buhlebuyeza Mkhwanazi to wrongfoot goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.

The Bafana Bafana equalised in the 26th minute following a magical piece of play by enterprising forward Percy Tau. The former Mamelodi Sundowns star deftly sliced the ball in between the Nigerian defenders, with Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong and John Ogu dazed. He then selflessly teed up strike partner Lebo Mothiba who tapped into an empty net.

Chances were few and far between in the second half as the hosts continued to enjoy the lion share of ball possession. Their much revered visitors also continued to lurk for seldom counter-attacking opportunities with their 3-5-2 shape somewhat reducing Stuart Baxter’s men’s forward opportunities.

Nigeria twice threatened from dead ball situations. Israel-based midfielder Ogu – starting his first competitive game since June 2013 (Algeria game rendered invalid) – saw his header onto Musa’s corner kick cleared off the line while Leganes defender Omeruo inexplicably headed Samuel Kalu’s free kick wide with a quarter of an hour to go.

The game’s other big moment was to come later as Nigeria thought they had snatched victory eight minutes from time. This time, Iwobi again – who was not at his effervescent best – sliced a ball through for both Musa and substitute Isaac Success with the former slotting beyond Khune. Alas! There went the first Assistant referee, Soulayman Sosseh’s flag again and cutting short Musa’s joy in a broad daylight of scorching sunshine.

Nigeria’s return to the FNB Stadium might have been sweeter had those two goals stood but their mission was nonetheless accomplished. A return among Africa’s elites next summer has been guaranteed and in spite of Libya’s 8-1 routing of Seychelles in the group’s other game, the North Africans must beat South Africa next March to find out if they will join the Super Eagles in 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

Nigeria lineup:

Ezenwa; Balogun, Troost-Ekong, Omeruo; Samuel Kalu, Etebo, Ogu, Iwobi (Semi Ajayi 90′), Jamilu Collins; Iheanacho (Success 69′) Ahmed Musa (Onyekuru 86′)

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