Chukwueze's goal, Rohr's tactics guide Nigeria into AFCON semis
CAIRO -- Nigeria are into the semifinals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, as a dramatic late goal from centre-back William Troost-Ekong saw the Super Eagles deservedly edge South Africa 2-1 to reach the last four. Colin Udoh provides his three major takeaways from the Super Eagles' victory.
1. Rohr outfoxes Baxter on the touchline
Nigerian coach Gernot Rohr has had his tactical acumen questioned over and over by many Nigerians, especially in the run-up to his side's quarterfinal with South Africa.
Bafana Bafana's surprise win over Egypt made those concerns all the more prominent, but on Wednesday, Rohr answered his critics with an impressive tactical display. The 66-year-old coach outthought and outfoxed his South African counterpart, Stuart Baxter, so much that Bafana Bafana never looked anywhere near troubling the Super Eagles.
Rohr got his team playing high and narrow to compress the playing area, then ensured that the full-backs had plenty of support to nullify South Africa's wide players. The South Africans' usual passing game was given no space, and their runners were tracked all the way. Stuart Baxter's decision to take off Thembinkosi Lorch, the hero against Egypt, before the hour mark, was a dire admission of failure.
In the end, were it not for profligacy, Nigeria should have made much more of their 11 shots, which more than doubled Bafana's five attempts. With all their attacking options nullified, the only way Bafana were going to score was via a set piece, and the Super Eagles must be kicking themselves for allowing the temporary equaliser from absolutely nothing.
"We decided to bring in two left-footed players, and they did a good job," Rohr said at the postmatch news conference.
2. South Africa fall to another unlikely hero in Chukwueze
South Africa's Nations Cup meetings with Nigeria have almost always been marked by the emergence of a surprise package. In 2000, Tijani Babangida stepped in to stun Bafana Bafana with two goals, the first marked by his burning pace within the opening minutes.
Peter Odemwingie carried on the tradition in 2004, blasting two goals in a two-minute span to power the Super Eagles to a 4-0 win.
All the prematch Nigeria buzz on social media had been about ensuring that Rohr start with Samuel Chukwueze over Moses Simon. The coach duly obliged, and Chukwueze, like those before him, made a huge impact, bursting into the box to poke home the opener from close range before spending the rest of the game tormenting Bafana Bafana left-back Sfiso Hlanti.
"We weren't surprised," Baxter said defiantly afterward. "They are a good team, and they have quality players, but we fought our way back into the game, and we were unfortunate to lose to a late goal."
3. Missed chances, unnecessary fouls nearly cost Nigeria
On the basis of the level of control the Super Eagles had on this game, especially in the first half, they really should have put this to bed in the opening 45 minutes.
While Chukwueze was causing chaos on the right side, Ahmed Musa troubled Thamsanga Mkhize on the right, constantly burning him for pace. But the duo's continued inability to find the right final ball proved to be Nigeria's undoing, and it almost proved costly in the end.
The inability to defend free kicks properly was also a concern. For the second game running, the Nigerians conceded from a harmless set piece to give their opponent life. A goal so late gave Bafana confidence, and though they could not quite find a way to break the Nigerians down, the lift they got from that goal was such that if the game had gone to extra time, they would have had the forward momentum.
In the end, though, the Nigerians possessed just that extra bit of quality over their South African opposition, and it told at the final whistle, thanks to an 89th-minute winner from centre-back Troost-Ekong.