The Super Eagles of Nigeria yesterday qualified for the African Cup of Nations final for the first time in 13 years with a 4-1 victory over Mali in an epoch-making semi-final in Durban, South Africa.
Former Eagles captain, Sunday Oliseh, said after the match that there was the need for African countries to stick with local coaches, praising Nigeria's coach Stephen Keshi and the home-based Eagles players for shrugging off all the pressures and prejudices and emerging victorious against determined Eagles from Mali.
Many pundits claimed that the match was the most impressive and comprehensive performance of the tournament so far as Eagles crushed Mali, thanks to goals from Elderson Echiejile, Brown Ideye, Emmanuel Emenike and Ahmed Musa.
A Malian midfielder, Fantamady Diarra , however, pulled one back for Mali's coach, Patrice Carteron, in the second half. But the development proved little more than a consolation goal as the Super Eagles moved into their first final since losing on home soil to Cameroun in year 2000.
When the match began about 4pm, Nigeria appeared the quicker of the two teams, but it was Mali who threatened an early goal when Molla Wague's header from a corner kick flashed just wide off the target in the 12th minute, while Momo Sissoko shot just over the top from a long range less than 60 seconds later.
About 15 minutes into the first half, John Obi Mikel opened up Mali's defence with a raking long ball that allowed Emmanuel Emenike to sprint in behind and get a low shot on target, but goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa made a good save with his feet. Seven minutes later, Mikel sent a powerful volley just wide.
The Super Eagles opened the scoring chances at about 25 minutes, thanks to some great play down the right flank by Victor Moses. The Chelsea attacker twisted and turned his way past Adama Tamboura before providing a low cross that Elderson Echiejile turned into the net with a diving header.
Just five minutes later it was 2-0, with Nigeria again penetrating down the right flank. This time, it was Emenike who provided a low cross that was turned into the net by Brown Ideye from close range, though the ball appeared to also make contact with Malian defender Mahamadou Ndiaye.
Just before half time, Nigeria received a big slice of luck to help rack up their third goal. A free kick was teed up for Emenike to strike - his effort was directed low and hard at the wall, but ricocheted off the legs of Sissoko, completely wrong-footing the goalkeeper and finding its way into the back of Mali's net.
Mali also created a chance to pull a goal back early in the second half, but Mali's captain Seydou Keita, of all people, fluffed the attempt and put the ball wide off the near post with only goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to beat.
On the hour mark, Nigeria surged into a 4-0 lead to put beyond any doubt the final result of the match. Mikel played a perfectly-timed pass for substitute Ahmed Musa to spring Mali's offside trap, before the youngster coolly slotted the ball between Samassa's legs.
The other Samassa on the pitch, striker Mahamadou Samassa, had a great chance to pull one back for Mali's Eagles in the 72nd minute, but he was denied by a fine save from Enyeama. But three minutes later, Cheick Diabate setup fellow substitute Fantamady Diarra to at least put Mali on the score sheet at 4-1.
Speaking after the match, Keshi stated that he was delighted about the outcome of the match, saying that he and the players dedicated the match to God and Nigerians.
Eagles have restored Nigeria's pride - Mark
Meanwhile, President of the Senate, David Mark, has showered encomiums on the victorious Super Eagles, saying the victory has restored the pride and dignity of Nigerians in global affairs.
Reacting to the superlative performance of the Nigerian players over their Malian counterparts, Mark thanked the Eagles for the victory and asked them to remain focused ahead of the next encounter.
He said, "This victory is well deserved. You have brought pride to the nation. We shall do our own part to honour you. The nation is proud of you. Please do more to bring the trophy back home. We are anxiously waiting like an expectant mother. Let me reiterate that the National Assembly will do the needful to reward you."
Keshi is now one victory away from becoming the second man in the tournament's 56-year history to win it as a player and coach. The only person to have achieved the feat is Egyptian Mahmoud El-Gohary, who won it in 1959 and 1998.
Keshi said: "We won in 1994 after we had been together for five years. But we have been together for five weeks. We met up for the first time in our training camp in Portugal before the tournament, and it was a young group. We worked hard, the atmosphere was wonderful but you cannot compare this team to that. We did play very well today and I am very happy but we haven't won anything yet."
Eagles tackle Burkina Faso on Sunday
The finalists for the African Cup of Nations championship emerged yesterday. The Super Eagles of Nigeria will take on the Stallions of Burkina Faso in Sunday's cup final.
In the first semi-final match, the Super Eagles thrashed the Eagles of Mali 4-1 in a one-sided game while the Stallions reached their first Nation's Cup final after beating favourites Black Stars of Ghana 3-2 on penalties after their pulsating semi-final match ended 1-1 after extra time.
In the final, the Super Eagles will be the favourites. If they win, they would have answered President Jonathan's call - during a teleconference Tuesday - to bring the cup home as the icing on the cake of Nigeria's Centenary celebration next year .