By Duro Ikazuagbe and Demola Ojo
A repeat of Nigeria and Burkina Faso’s opening Group C match is on the cards Sunday to determine who will bear the toga African champions for the next two years. Up for grabs asides bragging rights is a spot in Group B of the FIFA Confederations Cup alongside Spain, Uruguay and Tahiti in Brazil a few months away (June to be precise).
Friendly internationals with the leading soccer powers will also be a fallout of Sunday’s game, not to talk of the possibility of individual players earning (or improving on) lucrative deals with the foremost club sides in world football.
Africa’s soccer fiesta is known for throwing up surprises, Zambia’s victory at last year’s event buttressing this point. Nigeria, despite being a traditional power in the game, was not expected to play in today’s showpiece. The manner of reaching today’s final has been even more surprising – pleasantly if you are Nigerian – as the Nigerian team upped the ante with a scintillating 2-1 victory over tournament favourites, Cote d’Ivoire, in the quarter final and a 4-1 mauling of Mali in the Semi.
Burkina Faso, if anything, are more surprising finalists. Many Nigerians probably heard the country’s name for the first time after they were famously beaten 7-1 by Nigeria in an AFCON final in the early ‘90s. The present incarnation have however proven to be resilient and hard to beat. Like Nigeria, they are unbeaten so far but success has been built on a tight defence and hard work.
The Stallions showed the stuff they are made of in their first match at this competition, clawing back draw with a 94th minute equalizer. The only other goal they have conceded apart from that given away to Emmanuel Emenike was a penalty against Ghana in the semi finals.
They will be in the final for the first time in their history, while Nigeria will be contesting their seventh, despite winning only two.
This means the best attack in this year’s AFCON will faceoff against its best defence. Both teams are also the only ones to have hit the four goal mark, ensuring that against all odds, these two teams have earned their place in the final with the winner surely earning the title of Africa’s best.
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Seven-time finalists Nigeria and first timers Burkina Faso will clash Sunday for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations trophy. After two drawn games in Nigeria’s first two games, the Super Eagles hit the expected rhythm as a team with three big wins to reach today’s final showdown against fellow West Africans Burkina Faso.
Nigeria 1 Burkina Faso 1
The Super Eagles draw their opening group game 1-1 with Burkina Faso with Emmanuel Emenike giving Nigeria the lead before substitute Alain Traore put the Stallions back on equal pegging. Nigeria played one man short after defender Efe Ambrose was harshly sent off after his second booking.
Nigeria 1 Zambia 1
This high-profile group showdown against defending champions Zambia produced another draw. Emenike was again the hero for the Eagles with the opening goal, before goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene tucks away an equaliser from the penalty spot after a controversial award by the Egyptian referee. With Eagles needing a win to progress to the knock out stage, Stephen Keshi and his wards need no preaching to get the job done against Ethiopia.
Ethiopia 0 Nigeria 2
It took 10 minutes of magic from Victor Moses who won two penalties and stepped forward on both occasions to fire Nigeria into the last eight.
Nigeria 2 Cote d’Ivoire 1
The Eagles faced the top favourites, but against all odds, they beat the Didier Drogba-led Ivorian team. The Super Eagles played the game of their lives to fly past the Elephants with home-based playe Sunday Mba sealing the victory with a top-class finish.
Mali 1 Nigeria 4
The Eagles were no doubt the favourites after the big win over Cote d’Ivoire in the quarterfinals and they made short work of Mali with three goals in the first half. Nigeria eventually mauled Mali 4-1.
Burkina Faso made history by reaching the AFCON final for the first time in their history. To reach the last two, Burkina Faso topped in a group that had champions Zambia and Nigeria. Like the Eagles, they are yet to lose in South Africa.
Burkina Faso 1 Nigeria 1
Burkina Faso surprised bookmakers by recording a 1-1 draw with Nigeria in their opening game. They fought back after pressuring an Eagles defence that had a man sent off.
Ethiopia 0 Burkina Faso 4
The Stallions recorded the biggest win of the 2013 AFCON with 4-0 bashing of Ethiopia to boost their chances of making it to quarter final. Talisman Alain Traore netted a brace as they overran The Walia Antelopes for a deserved victory.
Zambia 0 Burkina Faso 0
Burkina Faso did everything to get the needed result to advance beyond group stage against Zambia. Knowing fully well that a draw will be enough for them to proceed, their game plan was to secure it, but star man Traore was ruled out of the tournament after an early thigh injury.
Togo 0 Burkina Faso 1
Burkina Faso booked their place in the semifinal for only second time in history with a hard-earned 1-0 win over Emmanuel Adebayor’s Togo after extra time to zoom into the last four.
Burkina Faso 1 Ghana 1 (3-2 aet)
Burkina Faso made history by going all the way to the AFCON final by upsetting tournament favourites Ghana. Scores stood at 1-1 after extra time before the Stallions edged past the Black Stars on penalties. Jonathan Pitroipa who got an undeserved second yellow card and sending off, was cleared Friday evening by CAF to play in today’s final clash with the Super Eagles