At Bouaké Stadium it was supposed to be a romantic football story of an underdog who finally came good on the grand stage but this absorbing Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) semifinal certainly forgot to follow the script.
For coach Hugo Broos and Bafana Bafana, this was an opportunity to slay an old nemesis and qualify for the final on Sunday in Abidjan against the winner of hosts Ivory Coast or DR Congo but they lost 4-2 after a penalty shoot-out.
After they were tied 1-1 after 120 minutes, Nigeria’s penalties were scored by Terem Moffi, Kenneth Omeruo, William Ekong and Kelechi Iheanacho as goalkeeper Ronwen Williams failed to produce the heroics of last week.
Temitayo Aina missed for the Super Eagles.
For Bafana, Mihlali Mayambela and Mothobi Mvala were on target with their spot kicks while Teboho Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa could not find the back of the net.
This led to huge disappointment for Broos, the players and the small group of South Africans here at the Bouake Stadium and millions back home in SA as it ended with red wine on the carpet and smashed plates on the floor.
There will be no first Afcon final appearance since 1998 when SA lost to Egypt in Burkina Faso, instead Bafana must find the motivation to play in the third/fourth play-off on Saturday in Abidjan.
When Egyptian referee Amin Omar blew the whistle after an absorbing match, Broos had his hands on his hips as he tried to make sense of it all and most of his players sank to the floor in disappointment.
Themba Zwane, 34, no doubt the best player of his generation, looked around him as he tried to figure out what had just hit them and he must have rued the fact that this was probably his last chance of continental glory with the national team.
A decorated footballer with seven league titles, one Caf Champions League and Caf Super Cup, and numerous domestic cup competitions under his belt, Afcon is the only trophy missing in his cabinet.
Broos sprang a major surprise in his starting line-up when he included Siyanda Xulu for Thapelo Morena and the SuperSport United defender produced a solid performance under pressure.
This meant Broos made a change to the starting 11 for the first time since the second match, when Grant Kekana replaced Xulu in the comprehensive 4-0 over Namibia.
Xulu was installed in the three-man defence with Kekana and Mothobi Mvala with Khuliso Mudau and Aubrey Modiba as wingbacks to keep the Nigerian attackers busy in their own half.
Elsewhere, Broos went with his tried and tested, but there was also a change in tactics with Makgopa moving to the side and Percy Tau as the target man.
For Nigeria, the notable move in their starting 11 was that star striker Victor Onishen was fit to start despite the Nigerians were involved in mind games earlier in the week, when it was reported he was an injury doubt.
Onishen, who had a goal disallowed by VAR in the second half, was replaced during the closing stages of extra-time.
The only goals during the 120 minutes were scored from the penalty spot by William Troost-Ekong after 67 minutes after Mvala hacked Osimhen in the box and Teboho Mokoena equalised, also from the spot, on the stroke of half time after Percy Tau was fouled in the box.
Bafana ended this end-to-end match with a man down after reliable defender Kekana saw red during the closing stages of extra time before the dreaded penalties, which went the way of Nigeria.
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