Nigeria powered into the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations final with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Mali at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Wednesday evening.
It is a first final for the Super Eagles in 13 years, and a chance for a first continental crown since their triumph in 1994.
Elderson Echiejile, Brown Ideye, the tournament’s top-scorer Emmanuel Emenike and Ahmed Musa put Nigeria in complete control inside an hour, before Mali pulled a goal back through Fantamady Diarra.
For a team who were heavily criticised as no-hopers through the pool stages, with coach Stephen Keshi reportedly facing the axe if they did not defeat Cote d’Ivoire in their quarter-final, it is a stunning turnaround in fortunes.
Mali had two opportunities early on to take a grip on the game; Molla Wague headed just wide, while Momo Sissoko shot over shortly afterwards.
John Obi Mikel was influential in the midfield and had another excellent game, controlling the play and helping Nigeria launch attacks from deep inside their own half. He put Emenike free, but Mali goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa saved well.
It was not long before Nigeria had the lead though as the early Mali pressure dissipated. Victor Moses made good ground down the right, skipped past Adama Tamboura and provided an excellent cross for Echiejile to head home on 25 minutes. Five minutes later and it was 2-0, Emenike the provider as his low cross was turned home by Ideye.
The game was over as a contest just before half time when the Super Eagles got their third. Emenike’s strike hit Sissoko and deflected past the wrong-footed Samassa.
Seydou Keita had an excellent chance to pull one back for Mali, but with just the Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to beat, he put the ball over the top.
It was 4-0 to Nigeria on the hour mark, Mikel’s pass was into the path of Musa and the forward provided a composed finish.
Mali's goal came far too late to have an effect on the result. Cheick Diabate set-up Diarra to score 16 minutes from time, but it proved just a consolation.
Nigeria will now meet the winner of the second semi-final between Burkina Faso and Ghana in Sunday’s decider at Soccer City.