AFCON: Super Eagles reach first final in 13 years
Nigeria announced its return to the zenith of African football in what was the Super Eagles’ most impressive performance at the on-going Africa Cup of Nations with an emphatic 4-1 drubbing of the Eagles of Mali in the first semi-final decided yesterday at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, South Africa. The Super Eagles last hit the final in 2000 when as joint hosts with Ghana narrowly missed the trophy losing on penalties to Cameroon. Ever since, the Super Eagles have had near misses: were semi-finalists in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010. In between they lost in the quarter-finals in 2008 and never made the finals in 2012.
Playing with fervour, the resurgent Super Eagles rekindled rather masterly their scintilating performance against the Elephants of Cote d’ Ivoire as they tamed the Malian Eagles with technical discipline that bordered on composure, teamwork and sheer individual brilliance. Goals from Elderson Echiejile (his first for the Eagles since he was capped in 2010), Brown Ideye, Emmanuel Emenike and Ahmed Musa ensured Nigeria routed Mali in the battle of the Eagles.
Fantamady Diarra pulled one back for the Patrice Carteron tutored side in the second half, but it proved no more than a consolation.From the referee’s blast of the whistle, Nigeria took the battle to the Malians with short, but tailored passes with the intent to sizing up the resolve of their physically advantageous opponents. It worked as they began to dominate in the midfield where Mikel Obi inmobilised Seydou Keita (whom the Malians had hoped would deliver the passes from the middle) forcing the Malians to resort to long thrusts that the defence marshalled by Godfrey Oboabana and Kenneth Omeruo easily dealt with.
On the quarter hour, Mikel showed his trademark flashes of brilliance with a raking long pass that opened up Mali’s defence and allowed Emenike to latch on the ball and hit his first low drive on target, but goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa made a good save.
The Chelsea man kept the pecker up seven minutes later with a riflery of a shot that missed the top right by mere inches. The Malians did attempt to unsettle the Super Eagles using their aerial superiority but the defence stood firm and repelled all incursions.
Then came the breather. Super Eagles’ livewire Victor Moses reproduced his trademark dribbling skill as he took Adama Tamboura to the cleaners with twisting runs and floated a pass daring enough for Elderson Echiejile to turn in with a diving header.
Four minutes later the Super Eagles made it 2-0. Emenike, who proved a handful for the Malian defence was picked out by Onazi and outpaced his marker before providing a low cross that Brown Ideye back-heeled into the net. The Super Eagles completed the first half route when Mamadou Sissoko deflected in Emenike’s free-kick after wrong-footing his goalkeeper as the ball watzs into the far corner.
Undaunted, the Malians attempted to redeem themselves but all such efforts were in vain as the first half ended. On resumption, the Malians took the battle to the Super Eagles with increasing tensity as did the downpour. However, the Eagles were content to soak up the pressure while launching daring counters. It paid off. Substitute Ahmed Musa (who came on for injured Brown) was again intelligently picked out by Mikel and dashed down the right frank ahead of two defenders and neatly tugged the ball between the legs of the rushing Samassa for Nigeria’s fourth goal.
The other Samassa on the pitch, striker Mahamadou Samassa, had a great chance to pull one back for the Eagles in the 72nd minute, but he was denied by a fine save from Enyeama. However, three minutes later Cheick Diabate set-up fellow substitute Fantamady Diarra to at least put Mali on the score sheet at 4-1.
With the victory, Nigeria booked Sunday’s final ticket and will play the winner between Ghana and Burkina Faso.