3 February 2013

Nigeria/Cote d'Ivoire: Super Eagles Rock Afcon's Foundations

Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
Emmanuel Emenike of Nigeria shoots at goal during the quarter-final against Cote d'Ivoire in Rustenburg, South Africa.

Rustenburg — The Ivorian dream died yet another premature death as their supposed "golden generation" cracked again and went tumbling out of the African Nations Cup on Sunday.

Instead it is the youthful Super Eagles of Nigeria who advance to the semifinal after a 2-1 win at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium that shocked the foundations of the tournament.

Sunday Mba, who had been a fringe player on the eve of the event, emerged as the hero with the winner 12 minutes from the end, just when the possibility of extra time was looming.

He was allowed to weave his way close to the edge of the Ivorian penalty area before hitting a shot that deflected off Souleman Bamba and lopped over the top of goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.

The goal came as the Nigerians were holding off a renewal from Cote d'Ivoire's side, who started the game slowly and were outplayed in the first half but upped their game after the interval.

Emmanuel Emenike had given Nigeria its initial lead just two minutes from halftime in a goalkeeping blunder by Boubacar Barry. Emenike blasted a long-range free kick with much pace and power. Barry tried an unorthodox punch of the ball to clear but such was its velocity he hardly got a hand to it.

The goal stung the Ivorians, who were becoming frustrated and finished the half having spats with their opponents and bickering at the referee.

But they looked a refreshed outfit after the break and were quickly back on track.

Didier Drogba won a free kick on the edge of the penalty box, which looked a somewhat generous decision from the Algerian official, and took the resultant free kick. It looped over the Nigerian defence and found Cheikh Tiote unmarked at the back post to power home the header.

This was a defensive blunder from Nigeria that suggested their fortunes had turned, but they kept the Ivorians at bay for most of the rest of the time, save for a blistering shot from Yaya Toure that forced a brilliant stop from captain Vincent Enyeama.

This was the fifth successive tournament that the Ivorians started as favorites, and arguably the easiest given the weakness of the rest of the field, but again they have come up short.

Nigeria now meet Mali in their semi-final in Durban on Wednesday.

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