19 Years After: Eagles, King Of Africa!

The Super Eagles of Nigeria ended a 19-year wait to regain the African Nations Cup after a stunning goal from home-based midfielder Sunday Mba gave them a deserved 1 0 win over the Stallions of  Burkina Faso in the cup final at Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg, South africa, yesterday.

It was only the third time that both countries have met in the 56-year competition with Nigeria beating the then Upper Volta 4-2 in 1978 and Burkina Faso snatching a stoppage time 1-1 draw in a Nelspruit group game last month.

This victory, watched by 90,000 fans in the stadium and millions of others across the world, makes Stephen Keshi the second African to win the trophy both as a player and a coach after the Egyptian legend, Mahmoud El Gohary.

Nigeria were forced into a late pre-match change when striker and four-goal hero and leading scorer, Emmanuel Emenike, was ruled out by a hamstring injury sustained in the semi-final match against Mali and experienced Ikechukwu Uche took his place.

Match winner Mba, 24, struck after 40 minutes when the ball bounced off a defender and into his path as he advanced on goal. Mba flicked it over defender Mohamed Koffi then reacted quickest to score with his other foot low into the corner of goalkeeper Daouda Diakite’s net in a move that showed sheer grit and determination. It was an opportunist goal by Mba and his second of the tournament, having struck a superb match winner in the 2-1 quarter-final win over pre-tournament title favourites, Ivory Coast. It was another sheer individual goal when he ran with the ball all the way from the centre circle, side-stepped Ivorian defenders and struck a shot that nestled at the top left corner of the post.

Mba’s goal in the final match gave the Super Eagles a deserved 1-0 half time lead that followed a predictable script with Nigeria dominating possession and creating scoring chances while the Burkinabe relied largely on counter-attacks.

The early second half exchanges mirrored the first period, with the Nigerian team pressing for a second goal. That left the opponents fielding a lone striker in Aristide Bance who was hardly given a yard of space to aim at goal. In fact, the Burkinabes had only one shot on target all night. But for poor finishing by Super Eagles strikers, the Stallions would have conceded more goals.

Diakite did well to push away a hard, low Ideye cross-cum-shot and Moses should have done better in a two-on-one situation that favoured the Eagles only to timidly surrender possession with the Burkinabe goal in sight.

Underdogs Burkina Faso, in the final for the first time, seemed over-awed by the occasion until the last 20 minutes when they threw everything forward in search of an equaliser. But Nigeria, with John Obi Mikel superb in midfield and Efe Ambrose, Kenneth Omeruo and Elderson Echiejile dominant at the back, always held the upper hand. Echiejile later copped an injury and was replaced by Juwon Oshinawa.

It was a third African title for Nigeria and her first since Keshi captained the country to victory in 1994.

In the post-match conference, Keshi said he was happy to bring joy to the homes of his 160 million countrymen. He also indicated that the team was not yet the finished article.

“Winning the tournament is mainly for my nation,” he said. “I am happy to make Nigerians happy once again. We are not there yet; we are still rebuilding the team.”

For team captain Joseph Yobo, winning the cup was a fitting end to his international career, declaring that this was his last appearance at the Nations Cup.

Among the rewards for Nigeria are a $1.5 million cash prize and a place at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, where they will face world and European champions Spain, Oceania champions Tahiti and South American champions Uruguay.

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