Super Eagles fly high

JOHANNESBURG - Nigeria last night reclaimed their status as one of the continent’s powerhouses when they won their third African Nations Cup title, 19 years after the West Africans last lifted the biggest prize in African football.

It has taken almost two decades for the Nigerians to reawaken from their deep slumber, and true to proclamations by the players before the match, that hunger and desire to put Nigeria back where it belongs, at the upper echelons of African football, was abundantly evident at the National Stadium here last night as the Super Eagles took the game to Burkina Faso for the better part of the first half.

With Chelsea forward Victor Moses particularly a handful whenever he had the ball and the industrious John Obi Mikel covering every blade of glass, Nigeria looked quite comfortable until a late second half response by the Burkinabes meant the first period was not terribly one-sided.

But it was Nigeria who got the well-deserved goal when find of the tournament Sunday Mba finished off after great build-ups with Moses, placing the ball beyond Daouda Dikakite’s reach for his second of the tournament five minutes before half time.

And like they had shown throughout the tournament, the Stallions are not the kind of team to meekly submit after a setback.

They returned from the dugout a much-improved unit, and enjoying the majority of the support from the locals and a large contingent of neutrals inside the electrifying National Stadium here in Johannesburg, they began to make regular forays of their own into the Nigeria half.

They didn’t just create chances, at one time forcing three corners in quick succession, but they agonisingly came close on quite a few occasions through substitute Wilfred Sanou and Aristide Bance.

The more numbers Burkina Faso poured upfront in search of the equalising goal, the more they exposed themselves at the back, and Nigeria, with the pace of Moses, were dangerous on the counter attack.

Twice those counters almost produced a goal which would have killed the game off as a contest, but the Super Eagles, without joint tournament top-scorer Emmanuel Emenike, missing the final through injury, lacked teeth upfront.

Moses and substitute Ahmed Musa came at the end of both opportunities. Moses short weakly at the keeper while Musa slipped before pulling the trigger.

Stephen Keshi’s men held on until the end, sparking off a big party among thousands of Nigerian nationals in the stadium and a lot more spread across the city and the country.

And in a case of history repeating itself, Super Eagles captain and defender Joseph Yobo lifted the Afcon trophy high after coming on as a substitute, just like his coach Stephen Keshi did almost two decades ago in Tunisia having failed to make the starting line-up in the final against Zambia.

The victorious coach Stephen Keshi was an elated man at the post-match press conference lst night.

“Winning this tournament is mainly for my country. My dream is to make all Nigerians happy. I want to dedicate this trophy to all Nigerians coaches who have been praying to win this trophy,” Keshi said.

Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo said: “It feels great but first and for most I want to thank the Almighty. It feels great and I’m so blessed because this is a massive achievement for my career.” - Enock Muchinjo in South Africa

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