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Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying
  • Lebo Mothiba (26')
  • Buhle Mkhwanazi (9' OG)

Nigeria seal Nations Cup berth with South Africa draw

Themba Zwane of South Africa outpaces Oghenekaro Etebo of Nigeria Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Nigeria sealed their place at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with a 1-1 draw against South Africa in their Group E qualifier at the FNB Stadium on Saturday, with their hosts facing an anxious wait until March to see if they can join them.

The Super Eagles led early thanks to an own goal from South Africa defender Buhle Mkhwanazi, but the hosts responded with an excellent equalizer from Lebo Mothiba, his fourth international goal in just five appearances.

Nigeria head the pool with 10 points from their five matches and cannot finish lower than second, while South Africa have nine points, two ahead of third-placed Libya.

They travel to North Africa to meet the Libyans in their final qualifier in March, needing to avoid defeat to book a place at the Nations Cup finals in Cameroon next June.

South Africa included Thami Mkhize for Ramahlwe Mphahlele in the right-back position, while Thulani Serero played for the first time since March 2017 in the midfield and Themba Zwane returned from injury on the left side of the attack.

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr chose Enyimba goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa ahead of South African-based Daniel Akpeyi, with Kelechi Iheanacho chosen to lead the line in the place of the injured Odion Ighalo.

Ahmed Musa tested home goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune early with a shot from the edge of the box and was then unlucky to be flagged offside when one-on-one with the gloveman.

However, Nigeria did have the lead minutes later when Samuel Kalu showed a burst of pace down the right flank and his cross was turned past Khune by centre-back Mkhwanazi for an own goal.

South Africa looked to hit back immediately as Serero fed Percy Tau in the box, but the forward was denied by an excellent covering tackle from Kalu just as he looked poised to pull the trigger.

The home side equalised on 26 minutes with a piece of brilliance from Percy Tau, who flicked the ball past two defenders to burst into the box and unselfishly cross for Mothiba to have the simplest of tap-ins.

The Super Eagles had an excellent opportunity to restore the lead when Musa found Iheanacho on his own in the box, but the first touch of the Leicester City forward was dire and the chance was lost.

The opening stages of the second half were quiet with neither goalkeeper tested as the oppressive heat and altitude beginning to take its toll, especially on the visitors.

Nigeria introduced Isaac Success for Iheanacho with 20 minutes remaining in a bid to freshen things up in attack, but they were turning over possession far too easily.

They had a golden chance to regain the lead though as a Kalu free-kick was perfect for Kenneth Omeruo at the back post, but he put his header wide with the goal gaping.

Musa had the ball in the back of the net for the visitors but the effort was ruled out for offside, another tight call against the Super Eagles.

The lively Musa was replaced for the final five minutes by Henry Onyekuru, but the final chance fell to the home side as Mkhize had a back-post header he could not get on target.

Both sides have friendly matches on Tuesday with Nigeria to host Uganda and South Africa entertaining Paraguay.