THE curtain came down on the Orange Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) at the National Stadium in Johannesburg on Sunday evening when Nigeria and Burkina Faso dueled to decide the champion team of Africa. After 94 minutes of action, the Super Eagles had secured their third Afcon title by a 1-0 margin.
Vuvuzelas blared and South African President Jacob Zuma was on hand to wish the two teams well as a packed crowd of 85 000 took in the title-decider. For Nigeria, it was a first final since 2000. For Burkina Faso, it was uncharted territory.
Not only were there supporters of the finalists in the stadium, but also plenty of football fans in the colours of the host nation’s national football team, Bafana Bafana.
The big team news before the contest was the absence of star striker Emmanuel Emenike for the Super Eagles because of an injury and the inclusion of Jonathan Pitroipa for the Stallions after a red card he received in the semi-finals was rescinded.
Daouda Diakité had an early touch of the ball for Burkina Faso when a cross come shot from Efe Ambrose flew neatly into his midriff. He easily caught the ball to end the first attack of the game.
Nigeria were making the early running and forced the first corner and free kick of the game, although Brown Ideye went down with little input from a Burkina Faso player.
Victor Moses got behind the defence on the right and it needed some good cover defence to snuff out the danger. Diakité spilt the resulting corner, but the snapshot from Ideye passed over the crossbar.
Nigeria were clearly dictating terms in the early going, forcing the Burkinabe back into their half. Whenever the Stallions managed to break out of defence, the Super Eagles were quick to get players back behind the ball and regain possession.
First decent attack
Burkina Faso’s first decent attack came after 15 minutes and it included a nice interchange of passes between Pitroipa and the big striker Aristide Bancé. The Super Eagles conceded a corner, but it came to nought for the Burkinabe. Ten minutes later, Bancé blasted a shot high over the Nigerian goal from outside the box after neatly chesting down a long pass.
The big, blonde-haired striker was then narrowly wide of Victor Enyeama’s right-hand post from a free kick.
Nigeria were almost rewarded for a patient build-up after half-an-hour when Uche played Ideye in, but the striker’s first touch let him down and Diakité, in the Burkina Faso goal, was able to gather the ball and stop the threat.
The Super Eagles were crowding the middle of the park, making it difficult for the Burkinabe to release any passes down the flanks from there, which had the effect of forcing the Stallions to try a good number of long balls out of defence.
In the 38th minute, the first yellow card of the game was shown to Ogenyi Onazi for a studs-up challenge and Burkina Faso’s free kick that followed came close to catching out the Nigerian defenders. The ball was delivered from the left to the far post where Bakary Koné met it, but his aim was off and Enyeama was not called on to make a save.
Five minutes from the break, Paul Koulibaly struggled to deal with a long, low pass from the back of the Nigerian defence. In trying to control the ball, he was robbed of possession and Ike Uche picked it up on the right, just outside the Burkina Faso box. He passed inside for Moses, whose shot was blocked. The ball, however, found Sunday Mba, who controlled it with his body before knocking it over a defender with his right foot. Before it hit the ground. he struck it with his left foot into the far corner to give Nigeria the lead with a goal befitting of the occasion of a final.
The Nigerian bench and fans leapt to their feat. Mba, surrounded by his team-mates, fell to his knees in celebration. It was his second goal of the tournament. His first, in a quarterfinal win over Côte d’Ivoire, was equally good.
Burkina Faso tried to find a quick reply. Préjuce Nakoulma came close to delivering an equaliser, but was ruled offside as he put Enyeama under pressure. Bancé, as he had done a little earlier, again shot high over the goal from range.
There was a heart-in-mouth moment for the Stallions just before the break when Mba intercepted a pass and snapped off a shot, but he was leaning back as he hit it and it flew high over the Burkina Faso goal.
The teams turned with Nigeria one goal to nil ahead.
In the third minute of the second half, Nigeria had a good chance to double their lead when Victor Moses found Brown Ideye deep in the Burkinabe box, but Ideye’s aim wasn’t true and his shot passed across the face of Diakité’s goal.
Coach Stephen Keshi made his first change after eight minutes of the second haf, bringing on Ahmed Musa for Uche, who had been a little off song and had failed to make an impact.
Moses had a good opportunity to increase Nigeria’s lead when the Super Eagles out-manned the Stallions as they broke away from defending a corner. He was a litte undecided whether or not to pass or shoot and in the end his shot was partially blocked and rolled gently into the hands of Diakité.
Kenneth Omeruo was shown the game’s second yellow card when he fouled Pitroipa with a knee to knee tackle. John Obi Mikel, well known for having a short fuse, had words with the referee and was also shown a yellow. Pitroipa left the field on a stretcher but returned a short while later from the sideline.
Bancé managed a flick-on from the free kick, but Enyeama was well positioned and caught the ball comfortably against his chest.
Burkina Faso were no doubt committing more to attack than they had in the first half, but Nigeria still controlled the midfield and the Burkinabe were finding it a tough job to break down the Nigerians in that area.
In the 65th minute Nigeria lost Elderson Echiejile to an injury. As he went off, Wildred Sanou came on for Florent Rouamba, as coach Paul Put made the first change for Burkina Faso. Juwon Oshaniwa came on for Echiejile. His first contribution was to stop Charles Kabore illegally and earn himself a yellow card.
Sanou got onto the end of a corner unchallenged, but his header back into the middle was knocked behind by the Nigerian defenders for another corner.
Nigeria countered with a swift break out of defence and Victor Moses set up Musa for a shot from inside the Burkina Faso box, but the substitute slipped on a sandy part of the field and went down, which allowed the Stallions time to turn over possession and clear the danger.
Not far wide
By now the game head really opened up and Burkina Faso swung back onto the attack. Sanou found Nakoulma down the right and then received the ball back. His first time shot was not far wide of Enyeama’s right-hand post. The crowd oohed and aahed.
With less than 15 minutes remaining, the Nigerian fans could be heard singing “All we are saying is give us a goal” to the tune of the famous John Lennon song, “All we are saying is give peace a chance”.
With time running down, Moumouni Dagano came on for Paul Koulibaly as coach Put replaced a defender with a striker.
Burkina Faso were taking the game to Nigeria, but were almost caught on the break. Some peculiar defending saw the Stallions’ central defenders exchanging a short pass across goal right on the edge of the six-yard box and Ideye picked up the ball, but couldn’t get a shot away.
Musa then put in a super cross, low across goal from the left. Diakité missed the ball, but so too did Ideye and the Stallions breathed a sigh of relief.
Abdou Traore came on for Djakaridja Kone as Put rolled the dice for a final time. Less than a minute remained in regulation time.
When time expired, four minutes of additional time was added on.
In the time added on, Ideye was shown a yellow card when he stopped a Burkina Faso attack with his right hand, but the shot was a disappointing one and didn’t force Enyeama into a save. Burkina Faso’s last chance had gone.
The final whistle sounded. Enyeama, curiously, tried to lift the referee in celebration. Nigeria and their fans celebrated and coach Stephen Keshi became only the second man after Egyptian Mahmoud Al Gohari to win the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and a coach.-www.southafricainfo.co.za