Nigeria crowned African champs
Nigeria ended a 19-year wait to regain the African Nations Cup when a stunning goal from forward Sunday Mba gave them a 1-0 win over Burkina Faso in a final the Super Eagles deserved to win at Soccer City yesterday.
The 24-year-old, who plays in the domestic league with Warri Wolves but looks destined for greater things, struck after 40 minutes when the ball bounced off a defender following a shot from the always-dangerous Victor Moses.
The ball fell into Mba’s path as he advanced on goal, and displaying a flash of inspiration, he flicked it over defender Mohamed Koffi then reacted quickest to score with his other foot as Bakary Kone closed in.
Mba’s flick into the far corner of goalkeeper Daouda Diakite’s net sent the Nigerian fans in the near 90,000-crowd into raptures and followed his excellent winner in the 2-1 quarter-final victory over Ivory Coast.
“I’m so happy, it is a dream come true. I don’t know what to say,” Mba said.
“We really worked hard and we were looking forward to this day and I’m so happy for this.”
Burkina Faso, who defied the odds to reach the final for the first time, seemed overawed by the occasion until the last 20 minutes when they threw everything forward in search of an equaliser, but Nigeria, with John Obi Mikel dominating in midfield and Elderson Echiejile, Efe Ambrose and Kenneth Omeruo in control at the back, always held the upperhand.
The nearest Burkina came to scoring was when Prejuce Nakoulma sent a fierce shot goalwards after 73 minutes but Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama made a superb stop.
Before the match, Burkina were given a huge boost when Confederation of African Football (CAF) officials rescinded the red card shown to winger Jonathan Pitroipa in the semi-final allowing him to play in the final. However, he was marshalled throughout the match by Ambrose and Omeruo and had little influence.
As the game became more stretched, Nigeria had at least four chances to double their lead in the closing stages.
The final minutes were tense because Burkina Faso scored with the last kick of the game when the two sides drew 1-1 in their opening group match three weeks ago.
This time Nigeria held out for the win and national coach Stephen Keshi became only the second man to win the tournament as player and coach after Mahmoud El Gohary achieved the feat for Egypt in 1959 and 1998. It was Nigeria’s third African title and their first since Keshi captained them to victory in 1994.
Nigeria’s win means they will take part in the Confederations Cup in Brazil in June where they will face Oceania champions Tahiti, South American champions Uruguay and world champions Spain in the World Cup warm-up tournament.