10 February 2013

Africa: Sunday Inspires Nigeria to Afcon Glory

The 19-year wait is over. On Sunday night, the Super Eagles of Nigeria were crowned as the champions of Africa in front of a capacity crowd at the National Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Nigeria beat Burkina Faso 1-0.

This moment has taken a while to arrive for Nigeria. On Sunday night, as the Super Eagles powered to a polished performance against Burkina Faso, the years of frustrations and under-achieving were forgotten.

For 19 years, the Nigerians have been in the periphery of history in the African continent. Their last taste of continental glory was back in 1994 - ironically captained by the man who was the architect of their 2013 triumph, Stephen Keshi. If he was hailed as a legend in 1994, Keshi's name will now be tattooed in the hearts of many in the streets of Abuja, Lagos and Calabar.

Sunday Mba, the man who has been a wonder to watch in the Nigerian jersey, produced an act of individual brilliance five minutes before the interval to score the only goal of the match. From an awkward rebound, Mba controlled the ball, beat the opponents and unleashed the shot that sent the National Stadium in a frenzy. Mba has been one of Stephen Keshi's trusted soldiers - the player who has blossomed under the 'Boss' and found their space in the absence of some of the most famous faces in the Super Eagles camp.

From the opening minute of the first half, the Super Eagles looked pregnant with possibilities. If they had been criticised for lack of innovation in the past, they have certainly improved a great deal. They relied on neat but quick build-ups. Inside the first five minutes, they had two oh-so-close moments but on both occasions the final ball let them down.

Burkina Faso have built their reputation for being less flashy but efficient - a group of players will impressive work ethic. On Sunday night, it took them 16 minute to settle in and have their first attempt at goal.

The rest of the first half was characterised by a safety-first approach - both teams trying to catch each other on counter-attack with the long ball. Occasionally, Nigeria's Eric Ambrose showed vision in the midfield, but he often found four Burkinabe bodies behind the ball whenever he got into the Stallion's 'red' area.

Nigeria went to the break leading 1-0.

In the second half, Burkina Faso came with renewed vigour. While they had been cautious in the first half, they started to throw bodies forward in the second half in search of an equaliser.

On the 72ndminute, they were nearly rewarded when substitute Bakary Sanou's strike shaved the upright. That moment looked to have spurred the Stallions, but the Super Eagles were also not holding back.

Twice in the last 10 minutes of the game Nigeria should have scored, but they did not take their moment. Such missed chances could have mattered had they lost, but all will be forgotten and probably forgotten after the victory.

Give credit to Burkina Faso. They laboured hard for the entire 90 minutes. Throughout this tournament, they have shown a fighting spirit only equalled by a few teams during the event.

On Monday morning - this edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will be remembered for many things: It was a tournament that had authored stories of hope, inspiration. It was an occasion where some of the continental powerhouses shrug off the cobwebs of inconsistency and reclaimed dignity. It was a Nigerian come-back story as much as it was a Burkina Faso magnificent journey - two stories that will make for happy reading in years to come.

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