Nigeria on Saturday booked a place in the Cameroon 2019 Africa Cup of Nations after holding hosts South Africa to a 1-1 draw at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
An own-goal from Bafana defender Buhle Mkhwanaza and an equaliser from Lebo Mothiba ensured both sides shared the points, which was enough for Nigeria to seal qualification for Cameroon 2019.
The Super Eagles are returning to the continental showpiece for the first time since 2013. The Eagles qualified for the tournament with a game to spare — a last matchday tie with Group E whipping boys Seychelles at home in March 2019.
After losing their opening match in Group E 2-0 to Bafana Bafana last year, the Super Eagles revived their hope with a 3-0 win over Seychelles in Victoria in September. They consolidated on the achievement with two wins over Libya in their double-header in October. The draw on Saturday sealed the qualification and ensured the Eagles do not miss the competition for a third straight time.
Nigeria top the table with 10 points while South Africa are second with nine points. Libya, who defeated Seychelles 8-1 in Victoria on Saturday, are third with seven points. Bafana Bafana and the Mediterranean Knights will battle for the group’s second ticket on the last matchday.
Eagles coach Gernot Rohr started Enyimba goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa in goal while Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun and Jamilu Collins were in the defence. Oghenekaro Etebo and John Ogu were in the midfield. Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho and Samuel Kalu were in the attack.
The hosts started with intent and urgency but Nigeria grew into the game and could have gone ahead in the sixth minute after Musa caught the Bafana defence napping and converted a pass from Iheanacho only for his effort to be wrongly ruled out for offside by Gambian referee Bakary Gassama.
The three-time African champions went into the lead in the ninth minute when Mkhwanazi deflected a cross from Kalu into his own net. It was the first goal conceded by the South Africans in the qualifiers.
Bafana however, took control of the game as the Johannesburg heat and high altitude forced the Eagles to conserve their energies — relying only on counter-attacks. Pacy winger Percy Tau was a thorn in the flesh of Collins in the Eagles left-back — constantly picking his pockets and causing problems for the Nigerians.
South Africa equalised in the 26th minute after Mothiba tapped into an empty net after he was found by Tau, who had dismissed three Nigerian defenders and goalkeeper.
The game became end-to-end as both sides searched for a winner. Nigeria thought they had sealed the won in the 82nd minute after Iwobi found an unmarked Musa in the South African penalty area — only for the converted effort to be wrongly ruled out for an offside.