The continental heavyweights of Nigeria
overcame the underdogs of Burkina Faso in a
convincing Afcon final display in South Africa
Nigeria’s young squad made Africa Cup of Nations history by besting Burkina Faso in Johannesburg to claim the nation’s third continental crown. Sunday Mba’s first half goal was enough to seal victory against the Stallions. Few in attendance at the National Stadium were under any doubt as to the
magnitude of the occasion, and the anticipation
created a powerful atmosphere inside the arena.
While both sides belted out the national anthems with vigor and aplomb, Nigeria were the only side that succeeded in overcoming the emotion and
expectation early on. Burkina Faso, by comparison,
were nervy and at times looked overawed by the
altitude of the final.
The tension afforded Naija the better opportunities
early on, as the Stallions’ defence failed to settle.
Victor Moses, a player who has begun to emerge as a
genuine international star during this competition,
was particularly bright, and looked keen to profit from any unease among the opposition. He appeared
everywhere, troubling both fullbacks with his pace,
and also the subtler side of his game, his feints and
Efe Ambrose and Ideye Brown had opportunities to
demonstrate their aerial prowess early on, but despite the bumbling and fumbling of Daouda Diakite in the Burkinabe goal, neither could capitalise. As the first half unfurled, the Stallions struggled to impose themselves; in frustration, perhaps more than hope, Aristide Bance – one of the semi-final heroes – twice shot from distance, but both of his efforts were wayward – the first hurtling over the bar, the second dribbling wide.
With the game threatening to become congested in
the midfield, and Burkina still struggling to settle,
Nigeria struck first. Moses forged some space for
himself, and after demonstrating admirable
determination and work rate, indirectly provided an
opportunity for Sunday Mba – the slayer of Cote d’Ivoire – to fire the Eagles ahead.
The Enugu Rangers midfielder still had a lot to do
however, and a compilation of delicate touches
allowed him to glide past the Stallions defence before
finishing. It was further vindication of Keshi’s
domestic-based selection policy, the manager
becoming only the second figure in history to win the
cup as both a player and a coach.
Burkina Faso, on the other hand, failed to truly grow
into the contest and find their rhythm. While few
would have begrudged them a place in the final, after
their heroic performances previously, perhaps the
occasion was too big as the side appeared to lack
self-belief, and rarely convinced.
As the game became stretched late on, the Stallions
began taking risks, but only looked menacing on rare
occasions, one such chance, a terrific shot by the
substitute Sanou, demanded a stunning save from
Enyeama to preserve Nigeria’s lead.
The Eagles also carved out several chances to end
things, but Moses and Brown conspired to waste these promising situations – every missed opportunity may have felt like a portent to another Burkinabe uprising, but, as the minutes dripped by, the inspiration never arrived. Images of Alain Traore, injured on the touchline, a horrible reminder of ‘what might have been’ for the Stallions.
The result ended a wait of 19 years for the Super
Eagles to be reunited with the trophy that means so
much to Nigerians worldwide. Only time will tell if the
generation of 2013 can emulate the past vintages
beyond this tournament, however, with a young
squad, including superstars such as Moses, Mikel, and Musa, as well as the rawer talents of Mba, Oboabona, and Omeruo, the future looks very promising indeed.
Nigeria claim their third Cup of Nations with the 2013 edition, as a continent recognises their revival, and a nation rejoices.