After missing out on the last two editions of the African Cup of Nations, the Super Eagles of Nigeria have now qualified for the 2019 showpiece set to take place in Cameroon after playing a 1-1 draw against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in Johannesburg in Saturday.
Having picked up maximum points in their last three matches, the Eagles went into the game against the South Africans needing just a point to seal qualification to Africa’s biggest competition next year.
Gernot Rohr made four changes to the side that beat Libya in Sfax last month, with John Ogu starting his first competitive game in a year, whilst Kelechi Iheanacho was a surprise inclusion upfront for injured Ighalo, with Rohr opting for a 3-5-2 formation.
The move paid off, as the South Africans struggled to get into rhythm in the opening minutes of the game, with the Nigerian team carving out some chances. The biggest of them came in the seventh minute when Iheanacho put Musa through on goal, but the Nigeria forward was flagged for offside seconds later.
After dominating the early proceedings, the Super Eagles opened the scoring in the tenth minute after Kalu, who was playing as a right winger, sent in a powerful cross into the 18-yard box which was put into the net by Buhle Mkhwanazi.
The South Africans struggled to contain the pace of Ahmed Musa, as the Al-Nassr forward threatened to double Nigeria’s lead after being put through on goal by Alex Iwobi, but his shot was well saved by Itumeleng Khune.
It didn’t take much longer for the South Africans to get the equalizer, as Percy Tau meandered his way past three Nigerian defenders, laying up the ball for Lebo Mothiba to slot home into the net.
Going into the second half, Nigeria seemed content with trying to hit the South African’s on the break, as they knew they were in the driving seat.
With little opportunity falling to both sides throughout the second forty-five, it seemed Nigeria had snatched the winner late on when Musa put the ball past Khune, but like in the first half, the forward was wrongly flagged for being in an offside position.
The draw now puts already qualified Nigeria on 10 points going into next year’s last round of games, whilst South Africa who now have 9 points will battle it out with third place Libya who mauled Seychelles 8-1 to keep their qualification alive on 7 points.