This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: 19 Years After, Nigeria Is Back As African Champion

Nigeria returned to reckoning in continental soccer yesterday with the victory of the national team, Super Eagles, over Burkina Faso to win the Africa Cup of Nations' title.

The victory was historical for the country; being the first time in 19 years that it would win the trophy and the third time it was doing so since it first took part in the continental soccer fiesta in 1963.

Coach Stephen Keshi's feat last night was the second time a coach, who was a member of a cup-winning national team, would win the trophy.

Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary set the record in 1998 as the first coach, who was also a member of a victorious team, to win the trophy. He won the title as a player in 1959, while Keshi who won the title as Super Eagles' captain in 1994 in Tunisia, last night led Nigeria to its third AFCON title amid wild jubilation.

An exultant nation, led by its president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, along with top political office holders and other prominent citizens and organisations celebrated the Super Eagles for bringing home the much-sought after trophy.

Senate President David Mark, House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal; Rivers State Governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, and former Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who is the national leader of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), also hailed the national team's victory, which they described as hard earned.

But the victory did not come easy for the Super Eagles who missed so many scoring chances in the game played last night at the National Stadium in Soweto, South Africa. Home-based Enugu Rangers midfielder, Sunday Mba's 40th minute winner sealed victory for Nigeria.

The Burkinabes, who started the race to the final from the same Group C as Nigeria in Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on January 21, were equally determined to win their first African title. Their best outing was a third place title as host of the 1998 edition of the tournament.

The last time Nigeria played in the final was 13 years ago when Lagos hosted the final. The Indomitable Lions of Cameroun stopped the Super Eagles from picking another title as hosts, just in the same way the class of 1980 did at the Sports City in Lagos.

The first half was clearly in Nigeria's favour but Brown Ideye and Ikechukwu Uche failed to utilise the opportunities to put the Eagles in the lead.

Ideye blasted wild an unguarded net in the 10th minute after Burkina Faso goalkeeper, Daouda Diakite, parried a corner kick into his way.

Interestingly, Ivoirien born Aristide Bance, who was expected to make a difference in the Stallions' forward, was closed up all through the first half by the Eagles' quartet of Ambrose Efe, Elderson Echiejile, Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo.

When everyone was expecting the first stanza to end up a goalless half, Mba broke the deadlock in the 40th minute. The number 19 jersey-spotting former Warri Wolves player went into the history book of the 2013 AFCON as the one to end Nigeria's 19 years wait for another African football crown.

The chance stemmed from a Victor Moses' shot that was blocked by a Burkinabe defender. In the ensuing scramble, Mba latched onto the ball and poked the ball past a Burkina Faso defender and goalkeeper to end the half with a Nigerian advantage.

After three minutes on resumption from the break, the Eagles almost doubled the lead but Ideye again failed to utilise the yawning chance. Diakite did just enough to deflect the ball wide off the far post.

In the 74th minute, Wilfred Sanou, who replaced Felix Rouamba to strengthen the Burkinabes' attack, almost evened the score from a counter attack but Nigeria's goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, proved himself equal to the task of stopping the opportunity.

CSKA Moscow forward, Ahmed Musa, who came in to replace Ike Uche had a couple of great chances to kill off the game in the dying minutes of regulation time, but he failed as he scrambled another chance wide.

In the added four minutes, the Stallions were unrelenting in their quest to drag the game into an extra time and a possible penalty shoot-out but it all ended in a fruitless search as the Super Eagles held on to the lone goal to claim their third African title.

Jonathan in a message, congratulated the Super Eagles for winning the Africa Cup of Nations title.

"President Jonathan thanks Coach Stephen Keshi and all members of the team who have worked very hard...to make Nigeria the proud champions of Africa once again after 19 years of setbacks in the competition," the presidency said in a statement.

"The President also believes that having conquered Africa, the new Super Eagles can go on to achieve even greater glory at the World Cup in Brazil next year," it said.

Jonathan expressed appreciation to the South African government and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for a well-organised tournament and promised to hold a reception for the victorious Super Eagles in Abuja tomorrow.

Buhari, in a posting on his Facebook page, applauded the national team for its victory, saying: "We are champions of Africa! Congratulations Super Eagles of Nigeria. Thank you for making us proud. One Nigeria."

Mark urged Nigerians to savour the victory of the Super Eagles and use it as a rallying point to further the peace and unity of the country.

Mark, who led the Federal Government delegation to the grand finale of tournament, expressed delight at the victory of the national team, which he said offered the needed tonic to boost the peace and unity of Nigeria.

Tambuwal also congratulated the Super Eagles for their hard-won victory and urged Nigerians to deploy the same energy with which they cheered the national team to victory to building the country.

He described the victory as sweet, reassuring and a reaffirmation of the superiority of Nigeria over other African countries both in football and other areas of human endeavour.

He said the Super Eagles had not only regained the hearts of supporters the world over with their mesmerising display, they had also lifted the spirit of the nation.

Amaechi, who doubles as the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors' Forum (NGF), and leader of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) delegation to the competition, in a statement by his spokesman, Mr. Dave Iyofor, stated that the Super Eagles had made Nigerians proud by their feat.

"This is a victory for all Nigerians. I must commend the Super Eagles for their sterling performance. The team and the technical crew did very well. They have made us proud again. Again, Nigeria has proved to the world that it is indeed the giant of Africa, the real champions of Africa. This sweet and well-deserved victory is a testimony that with the right attitude and spirit, determination, doggedness, and the will to fight for victory, we will always win and rise above whatever the difficulties or challenges that may want to hold us down, " he added.

His Ogun State counterpart, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, described Nigeria's victory as instructive.

Amosun, in a statement by his media aide, Mrs Funmi Wakama, described the success of the Nigerian team as "great", especially coming against all odds.

"It shows that, as a country, we can always achieve our dreams if we are dedicated, committed and unwavering in the face of daunting challenges," the governor said.

Also, Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, said the Super Eagles' victory was a testimony of the virtues of determination, perseverance and result-oriented disposition imbued in the average Nigerian.

According to him, the good blending of the home-based players with their foreign-based counterparts underscored the salient fact that Nigerians, irrespective of their different status in life, can build a virile nation if they work together as a people.

A former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, also congratulated Nigerians and the Super Eagles for winning the Africa Cup of Nations' trophy.

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