10 February 2013

Nigeria Start Favourites in African Nations Cup Final

Johannesburg — Nigeria are favourites to win only their third African Nations Cup title at Soccer City on Sunday, but the possibility of Burkina Faso springing a surprise in the final cannot be discounted.

Both sides began their campaigns with few hopes but have advanced to the final in a tournament filled with upsets.

Nigeria, despite their heavyweight status, made it clear they saw the event in South Africa as a chance to develop a new team, while Burkina Faso were always rank outsiders.

Yet both have overcome considerable odds to reach the final, the Burkinabe for the first time.

Ninety-second in the FIFA rankings, Burkina Faso have exceeded their wildest dreams by first winning their group, then beating Togo after extra time in the quarter-final and edging Ghana on penalties in a thrilling semi-final on Wednesday.

All five of their matches - including a 1-1 draw with Nigeria on the third day of the tournament - were played on a sandy surface at Nelspruit, but they now face their first game at the 1,750-metre altitude of Johannesburg.

Nigeria, who have had two matches in Rustenburg at an elevation of some 1,100m, play in their seventh Nations Cup final but their first in 13 years.

Although Africa's most populous country and a consistent exporter of talent to clubs worldwide, they have only previously won the tournament in 1980 and 1994.

Coach Stephen Keshi was their captain when they last lifted the trophy, and should Nigeria win on Sunday he will become only the second man to win Africa's top football prize as both a player and coach, matching the feat of Egyptian Mahmoud Al Gohari.

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