The Observer (Kampala)

Nigeria, a Tactical Masterpiece!

And the wait goes on. The golden generation of Ivory Coast wont be winning this year's Nations Cup.

Nigeria's 2-1 win over Ivory Coast on Sunday made sure of that. Right from the onset of that quarter-final, Ivory Coast looked such a nervous lot, yet the Ogas were pretty comfortable and collected. Indeed they had nothing to lose to a star-studded Ivory Coast team but their pride and calm gave them the confidence to enjoy the game that few gave them a chance to emerge from.

Credit must go to coach Stephen Keshi. Having had his head on the chopping block following Nigeria's unconvincing group performances, he had to do something to stave off the criticism. That, by all counts, had to be a tactical masterpiece against the much-fancied Ivorians. Firstly, in choosing Sunday Mba and Victor Moses, Keshi's plan was to have individuals to run at Ivory Coast, something that appeared to destabilise the team's shape, as Sol Bamba and Didier Zokora weren't well-protected by Romaric and Cheik Tiote.

While Nigeria started out in a 4-3-3 system with two sitting midfielders in Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi, on the offence, they turned it into a 4-2-3-1 to ensure that they always outnumbered Ivory Coast in every area of the pitch. That is what made it difficult for Ivory Coast to have any sort of supremacy especially in the midfield. Tiote and Romaric were swamped and for that reason, the supply to their attacking threats - Yaya Toure, Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba and Gervinho was stifled.

For all the games Ivory Coast were able to win earlier in the tournament, Gervinho and Yaya were able to have as much of the ball as they wanted. That said, the sticking difference was the energy that the Nigerians put in to cover as much ground, which the Ivorians didn't. The element of work-ethic could easily be seen in how many Nigerians managed to get behind the ball each time they didn't have it as compared to the Ivorians.

It goes without saying that Keshi's mental strength to make the hard decisions like dropping Captain Joseph Yobo for the much younger pair of Godfrey Oboabona, a home-based player and Kenneth Omeruo has added youth zeal and determination to prove their ability. The semi-finals today: Nigeria v Mali and Ghana v Burkina Faso are interesting match-ups.

Without Alain Traore, Burkina Faso's main threat is Jonathan Pitroipa, which works in Ghana's favour. The black stars just have to stop one man mainly, yet on the other hand, with Mubarak Wakaso, Christian Atsu and Kwadwo Asamoah, last year's semi-finalists have more fire-power.

But if Cape Verde could fizzle them out, Burkina Faso can be confident. Similarly, Nigeria should avoid being carried away by their win over Ivory Coast. Otherwise, Mali is equally as hardworking to go the distance.

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