Johannesburg: Nigeria’s young squad made Africa Cup of Nations history by besting Burkina Faso in Johannesburg to claim the nation’s third continental crown.
Sunday Mba’s first half goal was enough to seal victory against the Stallions.
Few in attendance at the National Stadium were under any doubt as to the magnitude of the occasion, and the anticipation created a powerful atmosphere inside the arena. While both sides belted out the national anthems with vigour and aplomb, Nigeria were the only side that succeeded in overcoming the emotion and expectation early on.
Burkina Faso, by comparison, were nervy and at times looked overawed by the altitude of the final.
The tension afforded Naija the better opportunities early on, as the Stallions’ defence failed to settle. Victor Moses, a player who has begun to emerge as a genuine international star during this competition, was particularly bright, and looked keen to profit from any unease among the opposition. He appeared everywhere, troubling both fullbacks with his pace, and also the subtler side of his game, his feints and touches.
Efe Ambrose and Ideye Brown had opportunities to demonstrate their aerial prowess early on, but despite the bumbling and fumbling of Daouda Diakite in the Burkinabe goal, neither could capitalise. As the first half unfurled, the Stallions struggled to impose themselves; in frustration, perhaps more than hope, Aristide Bance – one of the semi-final heroes - twice shot from distance, but both of his efforts were wayward – the first hurtling over the bar, the second dribbling wide.
With the game threatening to become congested in the midfield, and Burkina still struggling to settle, Nigeria struck first. Moses forged some space for himself, and after demonstrating admirable determination and work rate, indirectly provided an opportunity for Sunday Mba – the slayer of Cote d’Ivoire – to fire the Eagles ahead.
The Enugu Rangers midfielder still had a lot to do however, and a compilation of delicate touches allowed him to glide past the Stallions defence before finishing. It was further vindication of Keshi’s domestic-based selection policy, the manager becoming only the second figure in history to win the cup as both a player and a coach.
Burkina Faso, on the other hand, failed to truly grow into the contest and find their rhythm. While few would have begrudged them a place in the final, after their heroic performances previously, perhaps the occasion was too big as the side appeared to lack self-belief, and rarely convinced.
As the game became stretched late on, the Stallions began taking risks, but only looked menacing on rare occasions, one such chance, a terrific shot by the substitute Sanou, demanded a stunning save from Enyeama to preserve Nigeria’s lead.
The Eagles also carved out several chances to end things, but Moses and Brown conspired to waste these promising situations - every missed opportunity may have felt like a portent to another Burkinabe uprising, but, as the minutes dripped by, the inspiration never arrived. Images of Alain Traore, injured on the touchline, a horrible reminder of ‘what might have been’ for the Stallions.
The result ended a wait of 19 years for the Super Eagles to be reunited with the trophy that means so much to Nigerians worldwide. Only time will tell if the generation of 2013 can emulate the past vintages beyond this tournament, however, with a young squad, including superstars such as Moses, Mikel, and Musa, as well as the rawer talents of Mba, Oboabona, and Omeruo, the future looks very promising indeed.
Nigeria claim their third Cup of Nations with the 2013 edition, as a continent recognises their revival, and a nation rejoices.
I was very emotional on the podium and I broke down into tears because this was my first Asian Games after missing the two previous Asian Games, partly because of a doping allegation in 2006 when I was innocent.