Nigeria’s soccer team hold the trophy as they celebrate after winning the African Cup of Nations final soccer match against Burkina Faso at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb 10. (AP)
Nigeria end 19-yr title drought Super Eagles win $1.5 mln 1st prize, place at FIFA Confed Cup

SOWETO, South Africa, Feb 10, (AFP): Nigeria ended a 19-year Africa Cup of Nations title drought Sunday with a 1-0 final victory over Burkina Faso at Soccer City thanks to a late first-half goal from Sunday Mba. It was a result that took winning coach Stephen Keshi into the record books as he equalled the feat of late Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary by winning gold medals as a player and a coach. Among the rewards for the Super Eagles was a $1.5 million first prize and a place at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, where they will face world and European champions Spain, Tahiti and Uruguay. Nigeria were forced into a late pre-match change when striker and four-goal leading scorer Emmanuel Emenike was ruled out by a hamstring injury sustained in the semi-final rout of Mali and experienced Ikechukwu Uche took his place.

Burkina Faso were able to retain the team that started against Ghana in a semi-final settled by a shoot-out after the red card given to midfielder Jonathan Pitroipa was rescinded when the referee admitted he erred. It was only the third time the countries have met in the 56-year competition with Nigeria beating then-Upper Volta 4-2 in 1978 and Burkina Faso snatching a stoppage-time 1-1 draw in a Nelspruit group game last month. The Mba goal gave the Super Eagles a deserved 1-0 half-time lead after 45 minutes that followed a predictable script with Nigeria dominating possession and scoring chances while the Burkinabe relied largely on counter-attacks.

Mba, one of two home-based stars in the starting line-up, struck on 40 minutes with a penalty-box flick over Mohamed Koffi and a left-foot shot into the far corner past helpless goalkeeper Daouda Diakite.
It was an opportunist goal by Mba and his second of the tournament, having struck a superb match-winner in the 2-1 quarter-final defeat of pre-tournament title favourites Ivory Coast. Nigeria should have taken the lead much earlier as Diakite spilled a cross on 10 minutes into the path of Brown Ideye, whose shot at an unguarded goal was just too high. A combination of Nigerian midfield creativity and a couple of defensive howlers by the Burkinabe offered several half chances to the Super Eagles that were squandered.

The early second-half exchanges mirrored the first period with the Nigerians pressing for a second goal that would leave opponents fielding a lone striker in Aristide Bance with a mountain to scale. Diakiate did well to push away a hard, low Ideye cross-cum-shot and Moses should have done better in a two-on-one situation that favoured the Eagles only to timidly surrender possession with the Burkinabe goal in sight.
Although Spain-based Uche was a goal-scoring star of the qualifying campaign, he was making no impact on the final and gave way to Ahmed Musa nine minutes after half-time.

There was another Nigerian substitution not long after — this time enfored — with full-back Elderson Echiejile limping off to be replaced by Juwon Oshaniwa, while the Burkinabe introduced Wilfried Sanou for Florent Rouamba. As the game moved into the final quarter there were chances at both ends with unmarked Musa slipping as he was poised to shoot inside the box and a Sanou drive at the other end finishing just wide of the far post.

Urban Africa with noisy crowds, taxis and flames set the beat for a rising continent at the Africa Cup of Nations closing ceremony in Soweto on Sunday. Dancers grooved to house and electronic music against city skylines as a three-quarter full 90,000-seater Soccer City cheered ahead of the showdown between Nigeria and Burkina Faso. A few clouds dotted the Soweto sky as four Hawks fighter jets streaked past, showing the might of one of the continent’s strongest militaries. Gone were the worries of pelting rain that dampened the opening ceremony three weeks ago, kept away the jets and delayed spectators for hours on the road.

A group formed Africa’s outline, holding burning torches in the air. This rural scene then changed into a city, mirroring the continent’s economic rise — to jazz pop sounds of South African act Mi Casa. Nigerian fans — who form a large diaspora in South Africa — erupted in shouts and waved their green-and-white flags at their country’s afro-beat star D’Banj. “I loved every second,” said a beaming Steve Soniyi, 49, afterwards, wearing a green shirt and cowboy hat to show his loyalties. “I loved D’Banj, and the acts that followed, the sparks,” he said of the MTV Europe music winner. Another fan walked with a phony coffin marked “Burkina Faso Rest in Peace” on his head.

Massive flags paid tribute to the two West African nations who will play for the continent’s most prestigious sports title. Hosts South Africa’s exit in the quarter-finals didn’t keep away fans, who showed in their country’s colours at the sold-out stadium — the most tickets ever sold for an Africa Cup final. Few Burkinabe fans were spotted — they being a less prominent immigrant group at the continent’s southern tip. Enthusiasts throughout kept blowing vuvuzelas, the loud plastic trumpets introduced to the globe during the Football World Cup almost three years ago. The new champions would lift the African football cup in the same stadium as Spain, when they won the World Cup in 2010.

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