JOHANNESBURG // The third Africa Cup of Nations of Nigeria’s history may yet turn out to be the most satisfying.
This is a prize the most peopled country on the continent expects to win more than once every 16 years, and they have now one so at home in West Africa, in 1980, on the northern tip in Tunisia, 19 years back, and now in the south. The team that conquered Soweto on Sunday night have enough youth on their side that they can believe in sustaining this success.
Stephen Keshi, captain when Nigeria last won the Afcon, coached them to this 1-0 triumph and his belief in youth, the expertise of players based at Nigerian clubs, like the scorer of the first-half goal, Sunday Mba, proved to be worthwhile dogmas.
Nigeria had the greater menace against a Burkina Faso team made uncomfortable by the muscularity and above all the velocity of their conquerors. Victor Moses, the winger, shone; Ideye Brown was a constant handful.
By the time Moses was desperately felled by Florent Rouamba, the Burkinabe receiving a caution on half an hour, the Chelsea winger had caused a catalogue of anxious moments. With the free-kick which he looped onto the head of Efe Ambrose, who nodded over the crossbar after seven minutes, to the arching corner which confused the Bukinabe goalkeeper Daouda Diakite and invited Brown to establish a lead within 10 minutes – the striker stabbed the ball wide – Moses had given the Super Eagles their wings.
Neither contestant had been able to call on their injured leading goal-scorers for the tournament.
Burkina Faso missed Alain Traore more than Nigeria did Emmanuel Emenike. The Burkinabe Aristide Bance, once of Al Ahli in Dubai, has a greater physical presence than Traore but less of the poise and expertise from set-pieces: Bance, with a long-range effort, flailed off target, and a free kick optimistically struck direct, well wide, from more than 30 metres out, betrayed that in the first half.
Nigeria gained the lead with a rugged but accomplished sequence of play. Brown, slippery and strong, rode an agricultural challenge from Koulibaly, found Uche just inside the penalty area, and by then Moses and Mba had joined the attack from midfield. Moses spread the play, right to left to Mba, whose second touch, a delicate chip off his right toe, lobbed the ball over the head of Bakary Kone, and, rounding his opponent, arrowed a left-footed volley past Diakite.
They should call him "Super Sunday." Mba had scored the spectacular winner against Ivory Coast a week earlier. The execution of this one ranked even better.
As Burkina Faso pressed forward in the second period, they were vulnerable to swift breaks. Onazi’s fine through-ball invited Moses take on Diakite. Perhaps hampered by some irregular bounce from another of South Africa’s imperfect playing surfaces, Moses’s run, unusually, lost momentum.
Nigeria desired a second goal. The introduction of Ahmed Musa put another electric spark on their attacking circuitry. Fed by Moses at the end of a another swift burst of sudden end-to-end, Musa slipped with Diakite’s goal apparently at his mercy.
But at 1-0, Nigeria remained vulnerable. One symptom of their youth has been a tendency to let go of advantages, allow opponents’ late goals. When Wilfried Sanou, the Burkinabe substitute, fired across Vincent Enyeama’s goal with just over 15 minutes remaining, they had been warned.
"Give us a goal," exhorted the Nigeria supporters.
Soon enough, they accepted one would be sufficient to herald raucous celebrations.
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