Nigeria earned a deserved 1-1 tie with South Africa in Johannesburg, earlier today, to reach the African Cup of Nations finals for 2019. Despite missing several starters, due to suspension and injuries, Nigeria made its way to the finals for the first time since it took the trophy in 2013.
Also for the first time, Gernot Rohr, out of necessity offered his rarely used 3-5-2 against an African opposition. However, his plans to soak up the midfield by adding an additional player in the absence of regulars, who ordinarily would have strutted out in midfield, met with very little success. It did create opportunities in quick breakaways especially early in the game when Ahmed Musa threatened to be a handful for the South African defense. Besides those moments, the midfield was dominated by South Africans who bossed the space with 57% possession.
But for all South Africa's huffing and puffing, it was Nigeria that had the much better opportunities. this seems to be the frequent case in Nigeria v South Africa games. But in this game, Nigeria will rue two controversial calls that perhaps denied them victory. Musa had sped past the defense in the 7th minute, off an Iheanacho pass, but was wrongly ruled offsides as the television replays showed. Then with eight minutes left on the day, it appeared that Musa had scored off an Iwobi pass but again the goal was overruled as offsides in an extremely close situation.
Nevertheless, the reality was that South Africa's Percy Tau (10) was giving Nigeria's defense fits with his technique, quick turns, and decision making. It was he who turned Omeruo and Ekong to finish with an exquisite pass that tied the game after Nigeria had gone ahead in the opening half. Clearly the best player on the day, in the second half he turned his attention to terrorizing Nigeria's defense on both the right and left side and on a second half move he exchanged passes easily, eliminating both Balogun and Ekong, but Ezenwa rushed out to save the day (69th).
The rating for Nigeria's team on the day is provided below:
Ikechukwu Ezenwa (1) -- 6.2 -- He was hardly troubled all day as the defense did well to keep South Africa off serious opportunities. He conceded the only goal to the home team in a situation that no goalie could have solved with his defense in tatters.
Leon Balogun (6) -- 6.2 -- Balogun had a strong game but nothing spectacular. He survived a hold that could have led to a dangerous free kick near the box in the second half.
William Ekong (5) -- 6.2 -- This was not an eventful day for Ekong. Although, he was also turned in the spectacular South African goal but otherwise he had a quiet day in the office.
Kenneth Omeruo (22) -- 6.3 -- Omeruo was embarrassed by a Percy Tau turn that led to South Africa's goal. Otherwise, he had a strong but eventful day chasing the dangerous Tau. He missed a good opportunity to put Nigeria ahead from a Kalu set piece with an unchallenged header deep inside the box (75th).
Samuel Kalu (17) -- 6.4 -- Kalu had a reasonably good game playing wing back and made a last ditch sliding save early and it was his powerful cross that forced South Africa to concede the own goal that put Nigeria ahead.
John Ogu (19) -- 6.5 -- Ogu was calm and sprayed passes with far more accuracy than any of his midfield colleagues. However, his lack of significant mobility meant that Nigeria could never compensate for the absence of both Onazi and Ndidi.
Oghenekaro Etebo (8) -- 6.2 -- Etebo is a busy bee type of player but sometimes his decision making can be questionable and that was the case today. He never really imposed himself on this game.
Alex Iwobi (18) -- 6.4 -- This was not his best game by far. He probably turned the ball over more than any of the Nigerian players and sometimes with very little pressure. At times, he was lively but that was only in periodic spurts. However, Rohr's confidence in him may have kept him on for almost the entire game when a substitution may have been a good option. Perhaps, the failure to do this underlined how thin Nigeria is at his position.
Jamilu Collins (3) -- 6.2 -- Jamilu did reasonably well both defensively and offensively but he had difficulties, at times, attempting to keep in check Tau on the wide right.
Kelechi Iheanacho (14) -- 6.0 -- Kelechi was slow and is perhaps getting slower. He had a gilt-edged opportunity off a pass from Musa, in the opening half, that he spurned because of a poor touch that led to a turnover. He was correctly taken off midway into the second half.
Ahmed Musa (cpt-7) -- 6.8 -- Although he faded in the second half because of tiredness, Musa was a handful for the South Africans much of the first half. One thing about this player that has been greatly underestimated is his penchant for making passes that lead to goals. Today, Iheanacho could have been a beneficiary of one of such passes.
Isaac Success (13) -- 6.0 -- Isaac was anonymous most of his 22 minutes on the field and did not impact the game.
Henry Onyekuru (11) and Semi Ajayi (20) because of less than a quarter of an hour in the game.