CAIRO: Nigeria and Senegal went through to the semi-finals and VAR was straight into the spotlight on its debut at the African Cup of Nations on Wednesday.
This time, the often-contentious referee video review system got it right.
Nigeria beat South Africa 2-1 with a winning goal bundled in from a corner by William Troost-Ekong with just a minute to go.
Samuel Chukwueze gave Nigeria the lead in the first half at Cairo International Stadium. Bongani Zungu equalised in the 71st for South Africa when his looping header from a free kick, ruled out initially for offside, was correctly allowed to stand after a VAR referral that took about five minutes.
Zungu’s was one of three goals to be looked at by VAR on the first day the system was being used at the African Cup. It’s in play in Egypt from the quarter-finals onwards.
That VAR decision became decidedly less important when defender Troost-Ekong forced in a corner off his knee at the very end to win it for three-time champions Nigeria.
“We are lucky in the end to score this second goal,” Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr said. “But we are happy.” Senegal were the first team through to the last four and are a step closer to its first African title after beating Benin 1-0 across Cairo at the 30 June Stadium, where Liverpool forward Sadio Mane had two goals ruled out for offside through VAR in a frantic second half.
But in between the disallowed goals, Idrissa Gueye scored in the 70th minute. Gueye made a surging run from deep and was played in by a deft touch from Mane, who was often the catalyst for Senegal. Going at full pace, Gueye swept his shot past Benin goalkeeper Owolabi Kassifa to seal it.
Senegal turned up the pressure on Benin in the second half.
Mane’s header from a free kick shortly after halftime was ruled offside after Algerian referee Mustapha Ghorbal briefly consulted VAR through his headset.
Mane also broke clear and scored straight after Gueye’s goal but was adjudged offside again after another review by Ghorbal this time for a little longer. The second disallowed goal was very tight, but also correct.
The referee didn’t need to go to the sidelines to check the TV screen on either occasion.
Zungu’s goal in the Nigeria-South Africa game was more dramatic. Referee Redouane Jiyed of Morocco needed much longer to consult over the headset before indicating, by making the outline of a square with his hands and then pointing to the center circle, that the header stood.
Senegal’s Mane, who had three goals in three games coming into the quarters, was a constant threat to Benin’s last line of defence.
As well as his two disallowed efforts, he missed out when 1-on-1 with Kassifa, who made the save, and defender Moise Adilehou followed up with a goal-saving tackle. Senegal had a flurry of chances in a few crazy minutes after the goal.
Benin, who were playing in the knockout stages for the first time, had defender Olivier Verdon sent off late in the match to effectively end the underdog’s hopes.
Verdon was red-carded for chopping down Gueye on the edge of the penalty area with seven minutes to go when Gueye was again clean through.
Senegal will play Madagascar or Tunisia in the semifinals as they aim to finally lift the African Cup at their 16th attempt. Senegal, with Mane in strong form, are now the favourites after hosts Egypt’s exit at the hands of South Africa in the last 16.
Egyptian fans still haven’t forgiven South Africa and cheered for Nigeria on Wednesday night.
Nigeria face the winner of the Ivory Coast-Algeria quarter-final.
Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2019