South Africa secure semi-final berth as Olympic Eagles crash out

South Africa has progressed to the semi-final of the 2019 Africa U23 Cup of Nations after playing out a 0-0 draw with Nigeria in their last group B game on Friday. Amaglug-glug finished with five points to clinch a place in the last four of the tournament while the four points gathered by the Olympic Eagles were not enough as they crashed out of the competition after ending in the third spot in the group.

South Africa opened their campaign in the tournament playing out a draw with Zambia before claiming a slim 1-0 victory against Ivory Coast, courtesy of a 79th-minute effort from Teboho Mokoena. Coach David Notoane made three changes to the team that defeated the Ivorians with Siyabonga Ngezana, Athenkhosi Dlala and Thabiso Monyane, replacing Grant Margeman, Sipho Mbule, and Kegan Johannes. After a shaky start to the competition where they lost to Ivory Coast in their opening game, the Olympic Eagles bounced back to winning ways against the Chipolopolo with a 3-1 victory, courtesy of goals from Orji Okonkwo, Kelechi Nwakali and Taiwo Awoniyi, despite Patson Daka’s opener.

Coach Imama Amapakabo retained most of the players that started the match, with Awoniyi spearheading the attack. The Olympic Eagles started the game on the front foot with Ndifreke Udo coming close to opening the scoring in the 15th minute. The 21-year-old unleashed a shot from the edge of the box but goalkeeper Darren Johnson parried his effort for a corner-kick.  Amaglug-glug did not sit back in the encounter and almost broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute when Dlala’ free-kick was spilt by goalkeeper Adamu Abubakar before his defenders came to his rescue to clear the ball. Notoane’s men continued to probe the West Africans for the first goal in the encounter with Mokoena hitting the woodwork after a well-taken shot from outside the box. Both sides had their chances in the opening 15 minutes into the second half but lacked a cutting edge.

In his quest to end the impasse, Nigeria coach Amapakabo replaced Okonkwo with Bright Enobakhare at the hour mark while Ibrahim Sunusi made way for Sunday Faleye. South Africa on their part replaced injured Lyle Foster with Keletso Makgalwa as they continued their push for a winning goal, which almost came when Luther Singh’s pass found Tercious Malepe, but the 22-year-old hit the side netting. Nigeria made spirited efforts towards the match to find the back of the net but Amaglug-glug did enough to avoid defeat and advance to the semi-finals of the tournament, finishing second in Group B behind Ivory Coast, who defeated Zambia by 1-0. South Africa will take on host country Egypt in the last four of the tournament at Cairo Stadium on November 19.

Pix: Olympic Eagles