Lagos — Imagine this line up and their status in world football: Barry; Eboue, Zokora, Bamba, Tiene,Tiote, Romaric, Toure, Gervinho; Kalou, Drogba.
Many favoured them and predicted they would overrun the line up below: Enyeama; Echiejile, Omeruo, Oboabona, Ambrose; Mba, Onazi, Mikel, Moses; Ideye, Emenike.
But shortly after beating Ethiopia for the quarter final tie against star studded Ivory Coast, Stephen Keshi said his team would adopt a different mentality, different tactical approach and hopefully would win the match.
His words came to pass, yesterday when the Eagles proved that they could be super again.
A team that had difficulties with ball possession, controlled the ball, kept their heads, looked for space and used it well.
A team that passed most of their balls back, found the need to go forward. A team that played poor free kicks, changed yesterday. A team that one couldn't vouch for defensively, stood firm. And that was the story of Nigeria in the quarter final against Ivory Coast, yesterday. They won 2-1 and will now play Mali in the semifinal on Wednesday.
"There are a lot of possibilities in this team and we just want to keep on progressing," Keshi said in the post match press conference, yesterday. He commended the players and said that they reminded him of his days in the Eagles "when we fought and fought and fought."
Eagles fought hard yesterday. Early in the game they showed signs of what was to come.
On the 10th minute Victor Moses rifled a fierce strike from 25 yards towards goal to sting the palms of Ivorian keeper Boubacar Barry. The ball dipped and swerved but Barry did enough to prevent Nigeria from taking the lead. On the 28th minute another huge chance went begging for Nigeria. Ivory Coast carelessly lost possession in midfield to allow Ideye Brown to burst forward. He picked his moment to slip in Emmanuel Emenike, but he lost all composure to blast woefully high over the crossbar.
The dubious honour of the match's first booking went to Nigeria's Ogenyi Onazi who hacked down Salomon Kalou from behind to give away a free-kick in a dangerous position. But he was better than Fegor Ogude who missed the match on card offences. Those who followed his awful play would be thankful for the cards that made coach Keshi call in a better player. With Sunday Mba, Mikel Obi and Ambrose Efe effectively overlapping from the right back and Victor Moses outwitting the opponents, the Eagles had the flair they had lacked since the competition started. The result came in the 42nd minute. What a strike it was. Victor Moses rolled a free kick to Emmanuel Emenike. He smashed a thunderous shot past Ivorian keeper Boubacar Barry. It was about 25 yards away. Simply superb.
Emenike gave the Super Eagles a 1-0 lead with the super strike. Nigerians in the stadium went wild in celebration.
On the balance of play, Nigeria certainly deserved their lead. The Super Eagles played with more energy and freedom than their more experienced Ivory Coast opponents. The Elephants looked pretty laborious but it changed in the early minutes of the second half.
Didier Drogba is known for his falls. Sometimes he falls when air blows past him. It was his trade mark shortly after joining Chelsea. English press took on him and he changed a little bit. African referees are yet to master his tricks. The Algerian referee who was fair in his officiating, yesterday, fell for his trick when he earned an undeserved free kick which Cheick Tiote headed home. Four Ivoriens attacked the second post of the Eagles and they were unmarked. Not good for Alderton Echiejile. Tiote scored his first goal for his country in the 50th minute.
Thereafter, Ivory Coast appeared to be powering their way back but moments later, Victor Moses continued his runs which were a constant thorn in the Ivoriens' side. In one moment he twisted and turned past left-back Siaka Tiene to engineer space to cross. It was far too strong for Emmanuel Emenike but the move rattled the Ivoriens and probably increased the confidence of the Eagles.
Ideye Brown was also a menace for Ivory Coast with his aerial prowess. But he wasted another fantastic opportunity when he was left unmarked at the far post.
Then the moment of magic came. It was a goal worthy of winning any match. And it did for Nigeria in the 78th minute. Sunday Mba of Warri Wolves whom Rangers now claim is their player, created a chance with his dribbling, ran into the goal area and spun the ball past Elephants' keeper Barry in a splendid way that won him the man of the match. It was a clinical finish that sent Nigerians into a party mood till this morning.
Jonathan lauds Eagles
On his Facebook, yesterday, President Goodluck Jonathan, reacting to the victory, wrote: "The Super Eagles played well in their match against Côte d'Ivoire. I am very proud of our able representatives at the ongoing AFCoN tournament. They showed the true Nigerian spirit. To coach Keshi and the players, we are all behind you and will cheer as you soar like the great Eagles to victory."
Victory, sign of good things to come -- PDP
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has described the Super Eagles' victory over the Elephants of Cote D' Ivoire as an indication that Nigeria will soon surmount all its challenges under the present dispensation.
The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, however, charged the team not to relax at this moment but to increase their zeal as they meet their next opponent in the semi final stage.
Tambuwal hails Eagles victory
Meantime, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Tambuwal has congratulated Super Eagles on their victory yesterday.
Tambuwal in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Mallam Imam Imam particularly paid tribute to the fighting spirit exhibited by the Eagles.
He said the outcome of the match has demonstrated that if Nigerians can work together they will overcome all the challenges facing the country.
NASS will reward Super Eagles -- Mark
Also Senate President David Mark, yesterday, promised that the National Assembly will reward the Super Eagles for defeating the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire and pushing Nigeria to the Semi- final position.
He however, thanked the team for emerging victorious.
In a text message by his Chief Press Secretary, Paul Mumeh, Mark said that with the Victory, the Nigerian team has brought joy and smiles to the faces of Nigerians, just as he urged them to sustain the momentum, adding that soccer remains the greatest ingredient for Nigeria's unity.
The text message read: "Senate President David Mark thanks super eagles over their victory. The victory brought joy and smile to the faces of Nigerians. He wants the momentum sustained and promised NASS will do the needful to reward them. Mark said soccer remains the greatest ingredient for our unity. He thanked Nigerians for supporting the Eagles."