CAPE TOWN, January 19- Nigeria smashed South Africa’s dreams of progressing beyond the group stages of the African Nations Championship Sunday, beating the hosts 3-1 and ensuring Nigeria joined Group A winners Mali in the next round.
Nigeria needed to win to progress, and win they did, opening the scoring in the 21st minute.
After some enterprising work down the left flank, Chistantus Ejike blasted a left footed shot from the edge of the six-yard-box past the keeper and into the top corner.
South Africa, who started the game with a defence-first strategy, responded by adopting a more attacking posture, but to no avail.
On 30 minutes South African keeper Moeneeb Josephs spilled a routine free kick, and in trying to regain the ball managed to rugby tackle a prowling Nigeria attacker.
Josephs conceded a penalty and received a yellow card for his efforts. He got a hand to Ifeanyi Ede’s penalty, was unable to stop Nigeria from pulling 2-0 ahead.
Facing an humiliating exit at home in the group stages, South Africa brought on more attacking firepower in the form of Katlego Mashego.
But Nigeria nearly made it three just minutes into the second half when the South African defence was caught in possession at the back.
Only a reflex save from Josephs stopped Ede from putting the game beyond South Africa’s reach.
Mashego nearly proved his worth on 61 minutes, when he forced a brilliant one-handed stop from the Nigerian net minder, who managed to parry his shot from the end of the box past the post.
But within minutes the game was effectively over, when Ejike collected a one-two and made it 3-0.
Ejike almost made it a hatrick on 70 minutes, with his spectacular half volley from the edge of the box hitting the crossbar.
Some 36,000 Bafana Bafana fans could only look on.
There was a glimmer of hope for South Africa on 74 minutes, when Nigerian defender Solomon Kwambe was harshly sent off for a late tackle.
But the referee again reached for the red card two minutes later, sending off South Africa’s Vuyo Mere for the same offence.
South Africa got a consolation on 81 minutes from the penalty spot, with Bernard Parker making it four goals from three group games.
Meanwhile across the city at Athlone Stadium Mali beat Mozambique 2-1 to win Group A.