The African Nations Cup comes to its conclusion tonight when Nigeria take on Burkina Faso in Johannesburg. The game between The Super Eagles and The Stallions sounds like a NFL match rather than a football match but the Soccer City venue helps to deny that possibility.
It brings to an end an interesting competition that has caught the headlines for dodgy refereeing, ill-equipped playing surfaces and empty seats but th3ese two sides have played through all that to show the true embodiment of this competition.
Nigeria were written off before the competition as underachievers, fallen giants, no longer a force on the African scene. However Stephen Keshi has galvanised the side; picking a blend of European and home-based players has proven to be a masterstroke. The performances of Sunday Mba have been a revelation while the potent attacking force is spearheaded by Emmanuel Emenkike with aplomb.
Now they find themselves in a more familiar position. Favourites ahead of the final due to their tournament previous; they have won the competition twice before in 1980 and 1994.
For Burkina Faso it is their first ever final appearance. If Nigeria were not considered likely finalists than not many expected to see Burkina Faso escape from their group at all. At HITC we made a point of mentioning that Les Etalons could be one of the tournaments shock teams but for them to win the entire thing would be as big a shock as Zambia’s triumph this time last year.
The two featured in their opening game of the competition and drew 1-1 with Nigeria dominating the vast majority of the game before Alain Traore managed to snatch a late equaliser. With the Lorient man out injured any heroics will have to be performed by somebody else. Perhaps Jonathan Pitroipa could be that man after his ridiculous red card was rightfully rescinded by CAF.
Nigeria have since gone on to defeat the favourites Cote d’Ivoire and humiliate Mali 4-1 to make the final. Meanwhile Burkina Faso have been a solid defensive unit. They held out against Togo before winning in extra time and took Ghana to penalties in the semi-final and there is little doubt they will not simply be pushovers in this fixture.
For Paul Put’s men the biggest difficulty will be interrupting the play of John Obi Mikel. The Chelsea man has been in scintillating form; controlling the tempo of the game from midfield and allowing the free-flowing attackers to wreak havoc at will.
Overall Nigeria go into the game as favourites but the underdog tag has certainly fared Burkina Faso well so far; and do not be surprised to see a new name on the trophy this evening.
image: © celsoflores