African Cup of Nations review: Nigeria crowned kings of the continent
The African Cup of Nations came to a dramatic close on Sunday, with Nigeria ending a 19-year drought at the competition to lift the winner’s trophy for the third time in their history with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Burkina Faso. The competition boasted prominent players plying their trade in the major European leagues, thrilling matches and upsets along the way; here is a recap.
South Africa were proud hosts of the tournament, and the home nation’s fans had high hopes of an epic victory on home soil for Gordon Igesund’s men. The Bafana Bafana got off to an excellent start by topping Group A with a win and two draws, despite the damaging news that talisman Steven Pienaar decided to quit international football ahead of the tournament. Cape Verde Islands were a shock qualifier also at the expense of a wasteful Morocco side.
One of the tournament’s favourites, Ghana, marched through Group B, qualifying along with a stubborn Mali outfit. Group C saw the eventual finalists Nigeria and Burkina Faso qualify at the expense of holders Zambia, while in Group D Ivory Coast looked to be in ominous form, progressing undefeated along with Togo, at the expense of Algeria and Tunisia.
Ghana were first up in the quarter-finals, and the Black Stars put any dreams underdogs Cape Verde had of glory to bed; a second-half brace from substitute Wakaso Mubarak secured a 2-0 victory. Hosts South Africa were the next to bite the bullet, losing cruelly on penalties to Mali. Veteran Seydou Keita had equalised for the West Africans, before Lehlohonolo Majoro missed the decisive spot kick to see the hosts eliminated.
Ivory Coast and Nigeria met in a mouth-watering third quarter final, with the eventual tournament winners prevailing 2-1. Sunday Mba, as in the final, popped up with the decisive winner, with the Ivory Coast’s golden generation once more missing out on a chance of success. Finally, Burkina Faso overcame Togo in extra-time to reach the semis, with tournament star man Jonathan Pitroipa winning the game for his side.
Nigeria showed that they were serious contenders in the semi-finals with a crushing 4-1 victory over Mali, who were expected to be a tough opponent after only conceding two goals in the tournament before the game. Burkina Faso’s run of form was expected to run ashore when they met traditional powerhouses Ghana, however Aristide Bance scored the equaliser to make it 1-1 after 90 minutes, and again netted the decisive penalty when the game went down to spot-kicks.
Nigeria were relatively comfortable winners against Burkina Faso in the final, with coach Stephen Keshi becoming only the second-ever person to win the trophy as both a player and a manager. Sunday Mba was once again the goalscoring hero, vindicating Keshi’s decision to include the midfielder, who still plays his club football domestically, for the Warri Wolves. Victor Moses’ performances through the tournament deserve a special mention, while Jonathan Pitroipa was Burkina Faso’s talisman in their best-ever tournament performance.
The African Cup of Nations may be a nuisance to European club managers who see some of their star players leave in a crucial part of the season, but the 2013 competition has proved that the tournament is still as popular and exciting as ever.