Nigeria proved that their victory over pre-tournament favorites Ivory Coast was no fluke as they came out all guns blazing against Mali. Victor Moses was always going to be a threat against any team and he once again proved his worth in the semis. Tormenting the back-line incessantly throughout the match, he was a constant menace with his pace and superb passes. Their ruthless approach bore fruit as Elderson’s diving header found the back of the net. Minutes later, Emenike’s perfect pass found Ideye and for the second time, Mali were on the back foot. Throughout the tournament, the Mali defence has acted as a symbol of solidity, but on the night, they were found wanting on both occasions. Nigeria further punished Mali when Emenike’s free-kick took a deflection and ended up inside the net. Mali were stunned by the onslaught and had little resistance to offer in the second half. However, Nigeria scored their final goal through Musa in the 60th minute.
Peaking with confidence, Nigeria now believe it is in their destiny to lift the AFCON this time round. After being termed as a fluke, their persistence finally paid off. However, the only downside of the match was their star duo – Victor Moses and Emenike, who have combined to score 4 goals so far were taken off in the second half due to injury scares.
Playing a 4-3-3 formation, Nigeria will once more deploy the three-striker starting line-up in the finals. They will look to go all out for a victory. Coach Stephen Keshi was optimistic about the availability of Moses and Emenike for the final, although their participation will be down to the result of further scans.
Burkina Faso’s run in this year’s AFCON has been nothing short of extraordinary. Their fairy tale run continues as they managed to stop Ghana and book their first ever appearance in the finals. As was predicted earlier, the sand-covered pitch at Mbombela was the major talking point.
While Burkina Faso had acclimatized themselves in the sandy pitch, the slick passing game of Ghana was hindered on the same pitch. While this gave Burkina Faso a distinct advantage, but Ghana are no push-overs in AFCON. Another talking point was the performance of referee Slim Jedidi, who made a number of controversial calls, strangely all of them against Burkina Faso. Ghana took the lead through Wakaso from the penalty spot in the 13th minute. Ghana had chances to extend their lead even further but their efforts proved futile. Meanwhile, Burkina Faso got the score leveled in the second half when Bance scored in the second half. The referee took center stage soon as he disallowed a perfectly legitimate goal from Nakoulma. In extra time, Jedidi sent off Pitroipa for a second bookable offense, deeming that he had simulated a dive when replays clearly showed that he was tripped.
Pitroipa’s red card led to an official complaint being filed by Burkina Faso Football Federation. The decision will be reviewed on Friday, February 08. The red card cannot be overruled, but it is possible his suspension will be revoked so that he can participate in the finals. He has been the key player for Burkina Faso in AFCON and should his suspension not be revoked, Burkina Faso might go for the finals without their best player.
This is the first time Burkina Faso have qualified for the finals of AFCON and for most of the players, the journey till now has been nothing short of extraordinary. While they relish the opportunity to rub shoulders with Africa’s best, they know that their victory will seal their place as legends and provide a perfect ending to their fairytale. Burkina Faso will also have to make changes to their line-up, with right-back Koffi a major doubt.
Nigeria: Vincent Enyeama (GK); Elderson, Efe Ambrose, Godfrey Obobona, Kenneth Omeruo; Brown Ideye, John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi; Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses, Sunday Mbah
Burkina Faso: Daouda Diakite (GK); Bakary Kone, Paul Koulibaly, Saidou Panandetiguiri, Mohamed Koffi; Djakaridja Kone, Jonathon Pitroipa, Issouf Ouattara; Charles Kaboré, Wilfired Sanou, Beli Moumouni Dagano
Players To Watch
Burkina Faso are really good at the back with Koffi, Koulibaly and Kone being able to keep at bay even the most rampant attacking players. However the Stallions will miss their two key players Alain Traore, who has picked up an injury during victory over Ghana and Jonathan Pitroipa who earned an early shower after being shown two yellow cards by referee Slim Jdidi. However the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has suspended Tunisian referee due to series of serious mistakes.
Nigeria are considered clear favorites to claim the African Nations Cup title. They have an excellent squad packed with quality players – John Obi Mikel and Moses are pulling strings in the midfield while Emmanuel Emmenike is scoring crucial goals. Mikel has been particularly impressive as his calming presence in the middle of the pitch allows attacking players to flourish. He is the most likely to win the Player of the tournament award.