African champions Nigeria crashed out of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday after playing a 2-2 draw with Bafana Bafana of South Africa in Uyo.
Two goals each from Tokelo Rantie and Sone Aluko in the 43rd, 48th, 67th and 90th minutes respectively, ensured that Nigeria will not be in Equatorial Guinea to defend the title, which they won in 2013 after finishing third in Group A with eight points.
It will be the second time a defending champion will not qualify for the AFCON after Egypt failed to make the Angola 2010 event.
The Eagles could have qualified as the best third placed team but Congo DR’s 3-1 victory over Sierra Leone in Group D ensured that they made the journey to the biennial showpiece with nine points against the Eagles’ eight.
The South Africans, who have yet to beat Nigeria in a competitive match, started the match with intent to break the record in the 4th minute when a defensive blunder from Kenneth Omeruo, who just returned from injury, left Rantie alone with goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama but the forward could only blaze his effort over the bar.
Nigeria then picked up pace and were rewarded with three consecutive chances, the first of which came in the 9th minute but Ahmed Musa’s effort hit the bar with the South African goalkeeper to beat.
Musa again fritted away chances in the 17th and 18th minute when the keeper blocked his efforts with his legs.
The African champions made wave after wave of attack but could not break the resolute Bafana defence.
Rantie broke the deadlock in the 43rd minute after a Nigerian defensive error. Rantie’s brace was completed in the 48th minute when another defensive blunder left him alone with Enyeama and the forward made no mistake to score his seventh goal in 26 appearances for the country.
Coach Stephen Keshi threw in Sone Aluko for Raheem Lawal as the Eagles searched for goals and his change paid off in the 67th minute when the substitute scored his first international goal for Nigeria after an Ikechukwu Uche effort had bounced off the upright.
South Africa were reduced to 10 men in the 69th minute after Reneilwe Letsholonyane was sent off for a second bookable offence but the Eagles failed to capitalise on the deficit.
Aluko completed his brace in the 93rd minute of added time when his left-footed shot beat Darren in the South African goal to ensure that Nigeria maintained its unbeaten record against South Africa in a competitive match.
South African coach, Ephraim Mashaba, praised the effort of his lads.
Mashaba toldSupersport, “We tried. The boys did everything that needed to be done till the referee’s optional time. Nigeria were just lucky to still be able to hold the unbeaten record against us because they equalised in the dying minutes of the game. They are a good side and such was expected from them because most of their players play outside the country.”
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