7 February 2013

Nigeria: Team Work Does It for Nigeria

Durban — NIGERIA goalkeeper and stand-in captain Vincent Enyeama has attributed his side's convincing African Cup of Nations semi-final victory to great team spirit and determination but insisted that he would let skipper Joseph Yobo lift the cup should they win in Sunday's final.

Two-time champions Nigeria powered their way into the final when they thumped the Eagles of Mali 4-1 in the first of the semi-finals at the Moses Mabhida stadium here last night.

A blistering first half in which goals by Elderson Echiejile in the 24th minute, midfielder Aide Ideye five minutes later and striker Chinenye Emenike two minutes before the break deflated all the Malian hopes and gave the Super Eagles the perfect platform to secure their place in the final.

A light drizzle in Durban preceded the start of the second half but by then it was the Super Eagles and not the Eagles of Mali who were soaring high above and spreading their wings.

Nigeria had already raced into a 4-0 lead through substitute Ahmed Musa's 55th minute strike by the time Enyeama, who has been a pillar of strength between the posts, was breached for only once on the night via a 74th minute effort from Mali's own substitute forward Fantamady Diarra.

Enyeama, one of the veterans that coach Stephen Keshi has been using to unite a dressing room often fragmented by a flare of tempers, however refused to single out anyone for praise for their win.

The 30 year-old goalkeeper, capped 55 times by Nigeria just like his coach Keshi chose to dedicate the win to God and maintained that right back Yobo who has been relegated to the bench in this tournament, "remains the main man".

"The race is not for swift and the battle is not for the strong and everyone on the pitch is a captain. I am just standing in for Yobo by wearing the armband but he remains the captain, he is the main man.

"If we win the trophy by God's grace on Sunday which we hope we will, there is no doubting Yobo will pick his cup, he had been working so hard for this team and he deserves all the credit," Enyeama said.

With former Eagles captain Keshi electing to play Eric Ambrose at right back, the 32-year-oldformer Everton defender Yobo has been forced to play cameo roles and last night he only came on as a late substitute when the victory had virtually been sealed.

But following Enyeama's revelations, Yobo is certain to be given the privilege of lifting the cup should the Supper Eagles, winners in 1980 and 1994 win their third title at the National Stadium (Soccer City) in Johannesburg against of any of Burkina Faso or Ghana.

Ironically Keshi was the captain when Nigeria triumphed in the 1994 final in Tunisia and the Super Eagles coach wants his class of 2013 to emulate that legendary squad of 19 years ago.

"I dedicate this win to God who has made it all possible and to the Nigerians who have been looking for this over the years now. Our goal has been to put the smiles on the Nigerians.

"Some might want to draw comparisons with the great team of 1994, this team took us five weeks to build but the great team of 1994 took us five years to build and the spirit of that team was unbelievable.

"If we can get that character and mentality that would be great but we are slowly getting some of it," Keshi said.

The Super Eagles mentor said the fact that he had only assembled his squad five weeks ago also meant they would struggle to quickly gel.

"When we started the tournament it was a bit difficult because we were coming together for the first time as a team and I knew that the first two or three games would be difficult but once we got it right everything has been falling into place.

"We just thank God that we are in the final now and the reasons for dropping some big name players (for this tournament) remain best known to me but the way I win is that I pick players that are prepared to work for me and for the team," Keshi said.

As the Super Eagles head for Johannesburg for the final, they will also be hoping that their team doctor gives the all clear to Chelsea midfielder Victor Moses who had to be substituted in the 52nd minute because of injury.

"We are waiting for the doctors to tell us tomorrow about Moses' injury and any other injuries but we need everybody for the final".

Keshi also retained the same team that started against Cote d'Ivoire in a tough quarter-final in Rustenburg last Sunday.

The Super Eagles gaffer who has previously coached Mali also said his knowledge of the Malians had also worked to their advantage.

"I knew that they were a bit slow and we just had to be quicker in every aspect of the game," Keshi said.

In conceding defeat Mali's French coach Patrice Carteron reckoned that they had lost to a better and more experienced side.

Carteron said although they had been shocked by the defeat, he would dwell on the positives that have come out of Mali's participation in the 29th edition of the continental soccer showpiece.

The Malian Eagles will now head to Port Elizabeth to contest in Saturday's third place play-off.

But it was jubilation time for hundreds of Nigerian fans in the streets of Durban and millions more back home in the vast West African country as they celebrate their team's sixth appearance in a Nations Cup final.

For a team that missed last year's edition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea after failing to qualify, Keshi and his men had the right to party all night on Durban's sandcy beaches.

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