The Super Eagles of Nigeria confront the Stallions of Burkina Faso in today’s final of the 2013 Africa Nations Cup at the National Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa, with players of both teams eyeing personal records to boost their football profile.
For Nigeria, it is the first final appearance at Africa’s biggest football event in13 years, after losing the final of the 2000 edition (which it co-hosted with Ghana) to Cameroon on penalties.
Burkina Faso came into the final with a fulfilled ambition. They have never reached the stage despite taking part in eight past editions, including their first appearance, as Upper Volta, in 1978. They however finished fourth in 1998 when they hosted the competition.
On paper, Nigeria are the favourites for the title, having impressed their critics since struggling to reach the quarterfinals from the group stage. But in reality, the match could go either way, especially with the performance of Burkina Faso in the group stage where they played a 1-1 draw against their final opponents, Nigeria.
After becoming the competition’s constant third place finishers in the recent editions, Nigeria are on the path of reclaiming their illustrious position as kings of African football, and they could do so with a blend of a few experienced players with largely fresh faces, who made their Nations Cup debut in this edition.
The new Eagles
While big names like Joseph Yobo, Ike Uche and goalkeeper Austin Ejide, who have represented Nigeria in past editions, have played bit roles in the Super Eagles’ road to the final, players like Emmanuel Emenike, Brown Ideye, Sunday Mba, Ogenyi Onazi, Godfrey Oboabona and Victor Moses have become the pillars, and undoubtedly, the future of the Nigerian side.
After a slow start, life was injected into the team after the surprise victory over tournament’s favourites Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals. The loss spelt doom for a golden generation of the Ivory Coast team, whose mega-rich superstars like Didier Drogba (34), Kolo Toure (31), Salomon Kalou (27) and Didier Zokora (32) are fast on the decline due to age and loss of form. In contrast, a new generation of the Super Eagles was born with the hard-earned victory over the Ivoirians.
For today’s match, Eagles coach Stephen Keshi can still count on the brilliant crop of his youngsters, especially Ideye, Oboabona, Moses and Emenike, but he could be forced to exercise caution in the way he distributes roles among the players.
There was injury concerns in his camp after the 4-1 victory over the Eagles of Mali in the semi-final played on Wednesday with Moses and Emenike forced to leave the pitch. Although the coach doused fitness worries about the two impressive players soon after the match and two days after, a source close to the camp claimed that both players were likely to be short of 100 per cent fitness on Sunday.
“Moses came to the competition with injury but managed to shake it off after missing the first match but his new injury may drain part of his full strength for the Sunday final. He is likely to start but I am sure that Keshi will be cautious with the way he pushes him,” said the source.
“Emenike is a power player who rarely gets tired but he could be slow in the final because of his injury. He has been training but the first 10 minutes of the match on Sunday will show how fit he is,” the source added.
Strength in depth
The Super Eagles have shown strength in depth at the championship. Ahmed Musa might have lost his starting position but when he came in for the injured Moses in the semifinals, he dazzled, scoring a goal and having his second adjudged offside by the referee.
Sunday Mba, Ejike Uzoenyi, Godfrey Oboabona, Reuben Gabriel and Azubuike Egwuekwe and home flavour and strength to the team gearing for history.
While both teams are ready to do battle for the cup, they could do so without the captains.
Yobo is no longer the first choice despite being the Nigerian captain perhaps because of injury or decline in form and his opposite number in the Burkina Faso team Moumouni Dagano has also lost his place because of loss of form. It is unlikely that coaches of both teams will tamper with the team that fought all the way to the final.
But the two players are not the only important figures in the highlight. Nigeria coach Keshi and Burkina Faso’s Belgian Paul Put will bath in delight if they earn victory today.
Paul Put has been banned for life in his country after being involved in a match-fixing scandal in 2007 and will take delight in proving making his country see what they are missing with success in foreign land.
Keshi is after a bigger record. He will be the second man to win the cup as player and coach, after Egypt’s late icon Mahmoud El-Gohary, if he wins for Nigeria their third Nations Cup title. He was captain of the Super Eagles when they won the cup in 1994.