Nigeria have two massive injury concerns ahead of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations final against Burkina Faso at Soccer City on Sunday.
The Super Eagles have been getting better the longer the tournament has gone on and central to that success have been Chelsea forward Victor Moses and Spartak Moscow striker Emmanuel Emenike.
But both are injury doubts for the decider as Nigeria seek a first continental crown since 1994. Moses has been described as 80 percent fit for the game, while Emenike has barely trained since the semi-final victory over Mali and did not do so again on Saturday.
It is a major worry for coach Stephen Keshi, whose side has in part been carried through the competition by the pair. Emenike is the tournament’s joint top scorer with Ghana’s Mubarak Wakaso, having netted four goals.
"We're not 100 percent sure if he [Emenike] is out," Keshi said. "We'll know tomorrow morning [Sunday]. There's a lot of improvement. If he's not going to be there tomorrow... someone has to pick up."
Keshi could be playing mind games with the Burkinabe, with unofficial reports suggesting that Emenike has a hamstring tear that will keep him out for two weeks at least.
One man who will definitely play is Burkina Faso’s Jonathan Pitroipa, who has been allowed to take part in the final after having his yellow card against Ghana in the semis rescinded. Tunisian referee Slim Jdidi acknowledged his error in his official match report and this allowed CAF to clear Pitroipa to play. It is a move backed by both coaches.
"It's not every day you get to play in the African Cup of Nations final so denying him that would have been tough," Keshi said. "I applaud the decision taken by CAF by rescinding the red card on Jonathan. When you look at the video... it's very clear. It's obvious this guy does not deserve a red card [sic]. Having Jonathan should be entertaining, so I'm happy, I'm happy."
It is a sentiment echoed by Burkina Faso coach Paul Put, who says it would have been a grave injustice had Pitroipa been denied what is arguably the biggest game of his career.
"He [the referee] is a professional so everyone can make mistakes," Put said. "At that moment we were angry, but we won so we can forget. If we hadn't won, then I could still have a headache. We are very happy that CAF made a decision that Pitroipa can play this final.”
Put admits that his side have already more than satisfied their goals at this tournament, but knows that history beckons for his team.
“We are the underdogs, so for us it is already a victory to be in the final, and anything can happen in football, as we know,” he said, before admitting Nigeria were an improved side from the one that drew 1-1 with the Stallions in the pool phase of the competition.
“I think we have to be honest. We have seen a big progression in the Nigeria team since that first game, but... our team has improved as well. I think we have matured since that first game – but the final will still be very tough. The two games won’t have much in common.”
Burkina Faso skipper Charles Kabore says all the pressure is on Nigeria as his side appear in their first-ever Nations Cup final.
"It will be a tough final, but we will do our best," Kabore said. "We are not under pressure because we have nothing to lose. It will not be easy, first we played Ghana and now Nigeria."
Nigeria are two-time winners of the Africa Cup of Nations, but are appearing in their sixth final. Burkina Faso’s best finish was fourth, achieved on home soil in 1998.