RUSTENBURG, south Africa // As Efe Ambrose somersaulted in celebration and the Nigeria players gathered in front of their jubilant fans at the end, the pitch was littered with the slumped bodies of Ivorian players.
For them, this was not just a defeat, not just a quarter-final exit.
This felt far more profound than that; this felt like the end of their golden generation.
Ivory Coast have gone into each of the last four African Cup of Nations as favourites. They have one of the best collections of players any African nation has ever had - and yet they remain unfulfilled.
Since 2006, their record reads: final, semi-final, quarter-final, final, quarter-final. And no wins.
Now, with Didier Drogba 35 and unlikely to be around in Morocco in 2015, this generation loses its leader. It may also have lost its golden lustre.
Nigeria's coach Stephen Keshi captained the team that beat Ivory Coast in the semi-final in 1994 on the last occasion the Super Eagles won the Cup of Nations.
"Nobody gave us a chance," he said. "But I thank God and our wonderful boys showed character. This was a bit like the character I know form when I played with Nigeria - they know they have to fight, fight fight."
Their aggressive approach seemed to cow Ivory Coast, who were second best in the first half and fell victim of a familiar foible: their goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
He had already been made to look uncomfortable by a Victor Moses drive after 10 minutes, parrying the ball back into the centre of the penalty area. That may have been unconvincing but at least he got hands to the ball.
Two minutes before half-time, he was left prodding at air as Emmanuel Emenike's blistering free kick few past him.
The Egypt forward Mido tweeted that Barry had won the Pharaohs the three Cups of Nations they claimed between 2006 and 2010: while that is unfair, the feeling lingers that he is not at the same level as most of the Ivorian outfielders.
That said, he did make some amends with a point-blank save from Brown Ideye after 65 minutes.
By that point, Ivory Coast were level, having begun the second half with a greater sense of purpose. Drogba, having been fouled by Efe Ambrose by the goal line just after the break, dinked the free kick to the back post where Cheick Tiote headed in.
Nigeria might have wobbled but Keshi has instilled resolve. The winner came 12 minutes from time, from one of the home-based players. Sunday Mba, who plays for Warri Wolves, picked the ball up 40 yards out, drifted through two challenges and then saw his shot glance off Sol Bamba's backside and loop past Barry.
Ivory Coast's golden generation probably deserved a better epitaph but the element of farce and misfortune seemed strangely appropriate.
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