Uyo - Bafana Bafana have let a one-goal advantage slip three minutes into added-time as Nigeria salvaged a 2-2 draw in their final 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at Akwa Ibom Stadium in Uyo, Nigeria, on Wednesday night.
Tokelo Rantie scored either side of half-time as 10-man South Africa came within two minutes of claiming their first ever win against Nigeria in Nigeria and their first against the Super Eagles in six attempts, dating back to 2004.
"It's a question of luck, we should have beaten them at home in the 0-0 draw [in Cape Town] and this one as well," Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba said afterwards.
"For them to come back in the last five minutes of the referee's optional time shows that Nigeria have a little bit of extra luck against us."
Rantie broke the deadlock three minutes before half-time with his third goal of the qualification campaign, before slotting his second four minutes after the restart as South Africa looked on course to wrap-up group A with their fourth win of the campaign.
Sone Aluko scored in the 68th minute to set-up a tense final 25 minutes, which ended in disappointment for South Africa, who relinquished their lead to Aluko, bagging his second of the night to deny South Africa a famous victory.
Mashaba's troops headed into the clash with an unassailable four-point lead at the top of the group and would have been forgiven for taking it easy against Nigeria, who needed a win to stand any chance of defending their Afcon crown in January next year.
It was not to be, though, as Nigeria failed to qualify for the African showpiece event and in doing so, will not defend the title they lifted in Johannesburg on February 10, 2013.
Rantie's double ensured South Africa continued their superb form away from home, notching-up Bafana's sixth and seventh goals on the road, while maintaining their unbeaten record, to conclude a hugely successful campaign for Mashaba and his outfit, albeit with a disappointing share of the spoils with the Super Eagles.
"We planned to keep Nigeria at bay in the opening 10 or 20 minutes," Mashaba added.
"We knew that it would happen, that they would break down. That's why when we got the two goals, Nigeria did not know what to do because they were frustrated."
Bafana finished the game a man down after Reneilwe Letsholonyane, playing in his 51st game for the country, picked up his second yellow card shortly after Aluko's goal, leaving the visitors to hold on for a nervy 20 minutes, which belonged to Nigeria.
The draw capped a miserable qualification campaign for the reigning Afcon champions, who had to keep one eye on the group's other fixture in Khartoum, where Congo-Brazzaville edged their hosts to claim the second spot and advance to the tournament early next year.
Nigeria began the brighter as Ahmed Musa squandered three golden opportunities to take the lead inside the opening 20 minutes.
Darren Keet, however, in only his third international cap for South Africa, put in a superb display to deny Musa, who rattled the crossbar before thumping two shots straight at the goalkeeper, who had the better of the young Nigerian.
Just when South Africa looked like heading into the break scoreless, up stepped Rantie, who ghosted past four defenders before beating Vincent Enyeama at his near post to silence the home crowd and send Bafana on their way.
Ahead at the break, South Africa barely gave Nigeria time to breathe before Rantie hit the target for a second time after shrugging-off the last defender, rounding Enyeama and all but securing a win for South Africa.
But Nigeria's Aluko had other plans. They pulled a goal back after benefiting from some slack South African defence. With five added minutes looking a formality for Mashaba's team, Aluko broke South African hearts when he slotted home with barely 90 seconds remaining.
"The boys did everything until the referee's optional time. We lost shape and the goalkeeper was obscured a little bit, that's why they took a shot.
"We weren't picking up (marking) one-on-one."
Teams:Nigeria: Enyeama, Ambrose, Omeruo, Egwuekwe, Oshaniwa; Onazi, Lawal, Mikel; Uche, Musa, Emenike
South Africa: Keet, Khumalo, Ngcongca, Eric Mathoho, Mashamaite, Furman, Letsholonyane, Manyisa, Masango, Erasmus, Rantie