Stanley Nwabali earned Nigeria a place in the Africa Cup of Nations final after saving two penalties in a 4-2 shootout success over South Africa.
Nigeria had lost five of their previous six semis at the continental finals but survived some nervous moments to book a place in Sunday’s decider.
William Troost-Ekong put Nigeria into the lead from the penalty spot midway through the second half, before South Africa earned a spot kick of their own in the final minute of the 90 and it was converted by Teboho Mokoena, leaving the game at 1-1 in normal time.
South Africa lost defender Grant Kekana to a red card in extra-time as Nigeria put them under constant pressure, and then lost their nerve in the shootout soon after as Nwabali upstaged opposite number Ronwen Williams, who happened to save four penalties in South Africa’s quarter-final win over Cape Verde.
Nwabali dived bottom left to thwart Teboho Mokoena, before stopping Evidence Makgopa’s centrally placed effort to ensure the three-time champions will face either host nation Ivory Coast or Congo in Sunday’s final.
How Nigeria beat South Africa to AFCON final
The game in Bouak had barely started when Nigeria star Victor Osimhen doubled over in apparent pain. Osimhen was an injury worry before the game because of abdominal pain, but he was able to resume after a brief pause.
Percy Tau had the first real chance but shot straight at Nwabali, who then had to emerge from goal to grab the ball when Tau burst through minutes later, and produced a brilliant save to stop Makgopa’s effort from nestling in the top corner.
Nigeria got their break midway through the second half when Mothobi Mvala conceded a penalty for a foul on Osimhen.
Captain William Troost-Ekong coolly fired the spot kick home in the 67th minute, despite Williams’ best efforts to prevent it from crossing the line with an outstretched leg.
Osimhen thought he had sealed the win late on but the goal was ruled out after a VAR check found Alhassan Yusuf had fouled Tau in the area, gifting South Africa a last-gasp penalty.
Mokoena made no mistake with the spot kick to equalise in the 90th minute and Khuliso Mudau went on to miss a great chance to seal a South African win in stoppage time.