AFCON Final: Nigeria 4 Mali 1, to meet Burkina Faso on Sunday for the finals
President Jonathan said on his facebook page: “Again, Coach Keshi and our skilful and patriotic players have shown the world the indomitable Nigerian spirit. It is in this spirit that Nigeria’s leading lights came together to celebrate on Monday the 4th of February 2013 as we began our centenary celebrations. The Super Eagles have done us proud, the cup is within reach and Nigeria is indeed grateful and expectant of a special centenary gift from our players.”
Pastor Adeboye, some minutes later on his facebook page said: “Trust GOD where you cannot trace HIM, congrats to the Super Eagles. Keep committing your ways unto GOD and HE will see you through in JESUS name.”
In its reaction, the official sponsor of the national teams, Globacom, congratulated the team for qualifying for the finals in grand style.
The leading telecommunications firm commended the Super Eagles players for their purposeful football, excellent marksmanship and disciplined play, urging them to remain focused and ensure they win the trophy last won by Nigeria 19 years ago.
“We salute your heroism on the field of play. You have made the entire nation proud,” said Globacom in the statement.
“Nothing but the trophy is good enough for the country. It will re-establish our pre-eminence in African football where we were once regarded as the true giant of African football. We urge the Super Eagles to go for victory on Sunday to restore our lost glory in African soccer,” Globacom noted.
The telecoms giant, which is reputed to be the biggest supporter of football in Nigeria, appealed to the players to maintain the unity and love in the camp that had ensured victory for the team thus far and concentrate on the task of winning the trophy by eschewing complacency.
The Bauchi State Governor, Malam Isa Yuguda, expressed optimism that there is no stopping the lads from winning the cup on Sunday.
An elated Yuguda who watched the match in his office alongside other top government functionaries declared that, “with the way these good ambassadors of Nigeria are playing, the glorious days of Nigerian football are here again; we are going to rule African football once again.”
He commended the resilience and fighting spirit of the players coupled with the technical abilities of the technical bench led by Head Coach Stephen Keshi, pointing out that with the two arms working together, the team will definitely brush aside any opposition no matter how strong and stiff to ensure that the cup makes a return to Nigeria.
Nigeria secured its seventh final ticket of the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations after a convincing 4-1 spanking of Mali at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
It was a day of destiny gently turned into a day of providence for the Super Eagles as the team utterly outclassed Mali in the first semi-final.
The first half began with the Nigerians keen to recall the tempo that had seen off Cote d’Ivoire in the quarter-finals. The opening stages saw chances for both sides, as Mali threatened from set pieces, and Emmanuel Emenike forced a smart save from Mamadou Samassa – recalled between the goal post to replace penalty hero So Diakite.
When it comes to ‘tempo’, however, Victor Moses is often in a class of his own – and this occasion was no different. The Chelsea man was in stunning form, and it was his invention and natural ability that broke the deadlock. Bursting down the right flank, he sold the Malian left-back with a Cruyff turn before sending a delicious curling cross into the six-yard box. Elderson Echiejile was on hand to finish things off, stooping low to head the ball past Samassa.
It was the defender’s first goal for his nation, drawing parallels with France’s Lillian Thuram, who scored his only international goals in France’s victorious semi-final in ’98.
The dominance continued as Mali’s backline were again cut to shreds. Once more, Moses was the architect; his cross field run created indecision among the defence, before his delightful pass set Emenike free – the striker opted to play in his partner Ideye Brown, who made no mistake from close range.
Before half time, Nigeria all but ended the match as a genuine contest. The Super Eagles were awarded a free kick for a tenuous Momo Sissoko tackle on Moses, and Emenike, one of the heroes against Cote d’Ivoire, stepped up with glory in his eyes.
He did not disappoint, although even he would not have expected the goal to come in such bizarre circumstances: the wall separating and his fierce shot finally dribbling into the net, past the stranded Samassa, with Mali looking on aghast.
Months, if not years, of waiting for the talents of Chelsea pair Moses and John Obi Mikel to finally bloom finally came to fruition and both were influential; Moses, explicitly, crafting two goals, performing as many had dreamt he would, and Mikel, more subtly, controlling the play, and even threatening the Malian goal with a powerful strike.
As the game wore on, the differences between the two teams became starker. Mali, demoralised, looked leggy after their wearing quarter-final match against South Africa, while the Nigerians impressed with their fluid off the ball movement and a hunger throughout the team.
In the second half, it became apparent early on that Mali had realised the game was up, with the pace descending to a canter, all of the Super Eagles were keen to involve themselves in the action. Ahmed Musa, on for Moses, was the brightest. His goal on 60 minutes was the icing on the cake, and finally broke Malian resistance once and for all.
A late consolation goal for the Eagles, scored by Mady Diarra, was little succour for a side so outclassed on such a major stage.
It has been a mixed tournament for Patrice Carteron’s Eagles. Qualifying from the group and besting the hosts afforded memorable moments, but they have at times looked like a one man team, and have often lacked inspiration in attacking areas.
Sunday will be Nigeria’s seventh appearance in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, in 17 appearances. They have won twice (1980 and 1994) and finished as runners-up in 1984, 1988 (both to Cameroun), 1990 (to Algeria) and 2000 (again, to Cameroun).
Also on Sunday, Keshi, who captained the victorious Nigeria team in 1994, has the opportunity of becoming the only man alive to have won the Africa Cup of Nations both as player and as coach. The only other person, Egyptian Mahmoud al-Gohary, who won as player in 1959 and as coach in 1998, died last year.
On the other hand, Keshi’s young Nigerian team are growing boldly into national colours. With a final date set up against either Ghana or Burkina Faso, the sky is the limit for the West African powerhouse. Expect a confident spectacle from the Super Eagles on February 10 in Johannesburg.
What they said:
Coach Stephen Keshi
“When we started, it was a little bit difficult. We were just coming together for the first time. Most of the players had two or three days to work together during the qualifying series. But during the preparation for the competition, we worked hard,”
Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria goalkeeper,
“We are happy, we want to thank God for this victory. Everyone in our team is a captain, we motivate ourselves, we all know what we have to do on the field. I’m not the captain of Nigeria – I’m just standing in for the captain (Joseph Yobo).”
Patrice Carteron, Mali coach
“We are proud of the fact that we have been able to play well. I’m proud of my team even though we did not go to the final. We have to remain positive.
“We lost against a good team that was full of confidence tonight. We played a team that just beat Cote d’Ivoire and you could see their confidence on the night. What happened to us tonight is very difficult. Mali has been able to reach the semi-finals before and we also achieved that – which is good.”
Seydou Keita, Mali captain
“It is difficult to have a fair analysis in this situation. They have a good team, they have won and they were a better team than us. Right now I’m still very emotional.
“Today we failed to win; it is not about individuals but about a collective effort. We were very happy against South Africa because we played as a team. Tonight we didn’t play well and we must all share responsibility.”