Most neutral football observers would probably have liked Burkina Faso to pull a fast one over Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations final, but the Super Eagles were simply too dominant in all aspects. They reclaimed the title they lost in the very same country nearly 20 years ago on Sunday night. By ANT SIMS.
The last time Nigeria lost their Africa Cup of Nations title, the tournament was hosted in South Africa. Now, nearly two decades later, they have returned and reclaimed the trophy in a final which, if a little uneventful, did enough to be remembered at least for a little while – even if mainly for Vincent Enyeama’s attempt to lift the referee as the final whistle blew.
Burkina Faso had made it to the final of Afcon against some tremendous odds, beating Ghana in the semi-finals, but despite their fairytale status, they couldn’t make it past Nigeria. The Super Eagles needed a lone goal to become the Champions of Africa, thanks to Sunday Mba finding the back of the net in the 40th minute.
It was Mba who also clinched the winner in the Super Eagles’ 2-1 quarter-final victory over Ivory Coast, and this time he weaved his way to the back of the net after the ball deflected off the Burkina Faso defence.
The Burkinabe, who were so superb in their semi-final match, seemed somewhat limp under the tremendous pressure of the final. Even when, in the dying 20 minutes of the game, they threw the kitchen sink at going forward, they simply couldn’t find a way through to the Super Eagles’ defence.
Some magical moments from John Obi Mikel, Efe Ambrose, Kenneth Omeruo and Elderson Echiejile ensured Nigeria was in control from the start, and while there were a few very close shaves for Burkina Faso, the Cinderella story ended with the princess going home without a slipper.
In their previous tournaments, the Burkinabe failed to win a single match on foreign soil in the Nations Cup, and left observers stunned by managing to go as far as they did in this year’s showpiece. Butthey just couldn’t hold their nerve when the pressure was cranked up.
Burkina Faso had been solid throughout, only conceding three goals the entire tournament – one against Ghana in the semi-final and the other two both against Nigeria (once in the group stages in their one-all match, and one more in the final).
Despite the final minutes delivering some tense moments, with Burkina Faso nearly equalising, Nigeria held its nerve and a fingertip save from Vincent Enyeama denied Wilfried Sanou his chance.
As the final whistle blew, celebrations erupted at the near-capacity crowd in Johannesburg, and the Nigerian team set off on their celebrations.
It was a particularly special moment for Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi, who became the second man ever to win the trophy as both player and coach. The last time he lifted the Cup, he was the captain.
Keshi is also the first black African coach to win the tournament in 21 years – Ivory Coast’s Yeo Martial last did it in 1992. It’s a tremendous achievement for the former skipper, who helped Nigeria clinch the title despite severe criticism of his selection policy before the tournament. Keshi hoped that his achievement would help pave the way for more African coaches to do the same.
“When I came on board a year and a half ago, my dream was to make Nigerians happy and make sure they know they have a very good team. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. I hope some more African coaches will get this position and make their nations proud too,” Keshi said.
Burkina Faso: 1-Daouda Diakite; 5-Mohamed Koffi, 4-Bakary Kone, 8-Paul Koulibaly (9-Moumouni Dagano 84), 12-Mady Panandetiguiri; 6-Djakaridja Kone (21-Abdou Razack Traore 90), 18-Charles Kabore, 7-Florent Rouamba (20-Wilfried Sanou 65), 22-Prejuce Nakoulma, 11-Jonathan Pitroipa; 15-Aristide Bance
Nigeria: 1-Vincent Enyeama; 3-Elderson Echiejile (21-Juwon Oshaniwa 67), 22-Kenneth Omeruo, 14-Godfrey Oboabona, 5-Efe Ambrose; 17-Ogenyi Onanzi, 10-John Obi Mikel, 19-Sunday Mba (2-Joseph Yobo 89), 11-Victor Moses; 8-Brown Ideye, 15-Ikechukwu Uche (7-Ahmed Musa 54) DM
Photo: Nigeria’s players celebrate winning the African Nations Cup (AFCON 2013) final soccer match against Burkina Faso in Johannesburg February 10, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
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