Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Party spoilers remain a threat to Nigeria

It has been 19 years since Nigeria won their last Africa Cup of Nations Cup (Afcon) title and by their standards it is a long time.

This is why millions of Nigerians believe that their time has come to lift their third title in the history of Afcon.

The Super Eagles face underrated Burkina Faso at the National Stadium in Johannesburg tonight (kick off 8pm) in a final which has set tongues wagging. After missing the last tournament, which was played in Gabon, Nigeria looks like a rejuvenated side. They have improved with each and every game which they have played ever since the tournament kicked off on January 19.

Football analysts believe that the Super Eagles have what it takes to win the tournament, especially after disposing of pre-tournament favourites, Ivory Coast, in Rustenburg last weekend.
Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi came to South Africa with a squad consisting of mostly unknown players who were making their debuts but they have since performed beyond the expectations of everyone.

Despite the exciting performance of his team, Keshi has remained modest claiming that they’re in a building process. It is the attacking prowess of the Nigerians which make them more dangerous. In the five games they have played so far, the Super Eagles, led by striker Emmanuel Emenike, have rattled the net 10 times. But it is their 4-1 win over Mali in the semi-finals which sent a strong message to anyone who underrated their potential at this tournament.

Chelsea midfielder, John Obi Mikel, has also shown the continent that he is a player of quality. He used his football brains to cancel out Yaya Toure in the quarterfinals. As if it was not enough, Mikel then stepped up his performance to neutralize another danger man, Seydou Keita of Mali in the semis. That ensured Nigeria dominated the midfield proceedings against the Ivorians and Malians.

While the Super Eagles are near the Promised Land, on their way lies an unfashionable but dangerous Burkinabe side. In their history, the Stallions have never gone past the quarterfinal stage at Afcon, save for 1998 when they were the hosts.

What made people not to consider that Burkina Faso would get out of Group C was the fact that they performed dismally at last year’s showpiece.

Belgian-born coach, Paul Put, has built a dangerous side which plays entertaining football with results. To date, they have netted seven goals, conceding only two goals compared to Nigeria’s four.

It is the defence which has proved key for Burkina Faso. Though their key man, Alain Traore, withdrew from the tournament in their last group game against Zambia due to injury, a lot of players have raised hands in their squad.

Midfielder Jonathan Pitroipa has been a marvel to watch since the tournament started and he was controversially sent off in the semis, only to be re-instated and cleared to play in the final today.

Ahead of the final, Put has remained calm not letting the off the field issues affect their focus on the final. Those close to the Burkinabe camp believe that the Stallions might come up with a plan which might shock the football world come Sunday. Ever since the tournament kicked off, Burkina Faso has been party spoilers.

First, they won their group ahead of Nigeria, secondly they beat favourites Togo and Ghana in the knockout stages to reach the final.

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