Nigeria’s journey in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations reached a thrilling crescendo as they secured a hard-fought victory against South Africa’s Bafana Bafana in the semifinals, eventually triumphing in a tense penalty shootout.
While the collective effort of the team was crucial in navigating through this high-stakes encounter, certain players stood out for their exceptional performances, earning them the label of ‘hits,’ while others faced criticism for their underwhelming contributions, labeled as ‘flops.’
The three time African champions’ semi-final victory against South Africa was a testament to the collective resilience and determination of the team.
As Nigeria prepares for the final showdown against DR Congo or Cote d’Ivoire, addressing the shortcomings of the underperforming players while building on the strengths of the standout performers will be crucial in their quest for continental glory.
1. Victor Osimhen
Leading the charge for Nigeria was the dynamic forward Victor Osimhen. Throughout the match, Osimhen’s presence upfront posed constant threats to the South African defense.
His agility, pace, and astute positioning troubled the opposition, creating ample goal-scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Osimhen’s composure under pressure was evident, particularly in the decisive moments, where he won an early second half penalty as well as converting a goal in the second half which was later disallowed, showcasing resilience and leadership qualities.
2. Stanley Nwabali
In a match characterized by tense exchanges and crucial saves, goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali emerged as Nigeria’s savior. Facing relentless attacks from the South African forwards, Nwabali showcased remarkable reflexes and anticipation, thwarting several goal-scoring attempts with his acrobatic saves.
His calming presence between the posts instilled confidence in the Nigerian defense, providing them with the necessary reassurance to weather the storm.
Nwabali’s heroics in the penalty shootout, where he denied two crucial spot-kicks, ultimately proved pivotal in securing Nigeria’s passage to the final.
3. William Troost-Ekong
At the heart of Nigeria’s defense stood Troost Ekong, delivering a masterful performance to thwart South Africa’s attacking threats.
Troost-Ekong’s commanding presence and tactical astuteness were instrumental in nullifying the opposition’s offensive maneuvers, effectively breaking down their attacking plays and limiting their goal-scoring opportunities.
His well-timed tackles, aerial prowess, and ability to organize the backline played a crucial role in maintaining defensive solidity as well as showing nerves of steel to put the super Eagles in front early in the second half and in the penalty shootout.
Troost-Ekong’s leadership on the field was evident, as he marshaled the defense with authority and composure, emerging as a pillar of strength for the Nigerian team.
1. Alex Iwobi
Despite his undeniable talent and potential, Alex Iwobi failed to leave a significant impact in the semifinal encounter against South Africa. Deployed in midfield, Iwobi struggled to assert his authority in the center of the park, often losing possession cheaply and failing to create meaningful opportunities for his teammates.
His lack of creativity and dynamism hindered Nigeria’s attacking fluency, depriving the team of the necessary impetus to break down the resolute South African defense and he was subbed off in the 63rd minute as a result.
Iwobi’s subdued performance raised questions about his effectiveness in the midfield role, highlighting the need for improvement in future fixtures.
2. Alhassan Yusuf
Another midfielder who endured a challenging outing against South Africa was Alhassan Yusuf. After coming on for Iwobi late on in the second half, the Royal Antwerp star was tasked with dictating the tempo of the game and providing defensive cover.
Yusuf struggled to make a significant impact in midfield. His misplaced passes and positional indiscipline exposed the Nigerian defense to counter-attacks, putting additional pressure on his teammates to cover for his deficiencies.
Yusuf’s inability to assert control in midfield disrupted Nigeria’s rhythm and gave away a penalty to South Africa following a schoolboy challenge, highlighting the need for greater consistency and discipline in his performances.
3. Moses Simon
Despite his ability to provide a creative spark on the flanks as we’ve already seen in previous games at this tournament, Moses Simon endured a disappointing outing against South Africa.
Tasked with stretching the opposition defense and delivering dangerous crosses into the box, Simon struggled to make a meaningful impact on the game.
His decision-making in the final third was questionable, often opting for low-percentage passes or speculative shots instead of capitalizing on promising attacking opportunities.
Simon’s inability to provide a consistent threat on the wing limited Nigeria’s attacking options and allowed the South African defense to neutralize his influence effectively.