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Eagles lift Nations Cup after a 19-year wait


Home-based Sunday Mba scored in the 40th minute  for Nigeria on  Sunday night to end the country’s 19-year wait to win the African Nations Cup.

A stunning goal from the winger gave the Super Eagles a deserved 1-0 win over Burkina Faso in the final played at the Soccer City in South Africa.

It was another remarkable outing for the Warri Wolves star in the competition which kicked off on January 19. The 24-year-old also scored the winner in the 2-1 quarter-final win over Ivory Coast. He hit the winner against the Burkinabe when the ball bounced off a defender and rolled  into his path as he advanced on goal.

Mba flicked it over defender Mohamed Koffi  and then reacted  fast enough  to score with his other foot low into the corner of goalkeeper Daouda Diakite’s net for a contender for goal of the tournament.

Underdogs Burkina Faso, in the final for the first time, seemed overawed by the occasion, which was played out in front of a near 90,000 capacity crowd, until the last 20 minutes when they threw everything forward in search of an equaliser.

But Nigeria with Mikel Obi superb in midfield and Efe Ambrose, Kenneth Omeruo and Elderson Echiejile dominant at the back  held the upper hand.

The victory meant Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi became only the second man to win the tournament as player and coach. It was a third African title for Nigeria and the first since Keshi captained the Super Eagles to victory in 1994 in Tunisia. The first person to achieve the feat was Mamoud El-Gohary of Egypt. Keshi, who spoke soon after the game, said he was thrilled winning the trophy as both player and coach.

He said, “Yes, I won the other one in 1994 as a player and this one as a coach but for me winning is what matters. Can any of them actually thrill me more? I think the major difference is the long wait for this cup. We  waited for such a long time for another African trophy and that is why this one is looking so special. The long wait has made this so desirable.”

The  team landed in South Africa  rated below  Ivory Coast and Ghana in the competition. They continued to participate without much recognition until they conquered the star-studded Ivorian team at the quarter final stage. From that point,  the players led by Keshi gained attention and became ultimate favourites, having beaten the Ivorians with a reigning African Footballer-of-the-Year, in Yaya Toure and celebrated African star Didier Drogba.

During  the semi-final stage, the Eagles  flew so high that they swept through Mali 4-1. That  feat  boosted their confidence and  earned them more fans.

Apart from waiting for 19 years to win the cup, Nigerians had not seen their team in the final game since 2000 when the Eagles lost to Cameroon on penalties after score stood at 2-2 full time. Since then,  the best the Eagles had achieved was winning the bronze in 2002 and 2004. The peak of disappointment over the years was the fact that the Eagles could not qualify for the 2002 edition held in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea.

 The new  status as African champions also means that Nigeria qualified for FIFA’s Confederation Cup which will hold in Brazil. The last time Nigeria featured in the competition was in 1995 when the competition was launched.

Jonathan misses victory

On Sunday President Goodluck Jonathan could not make the trip to Johannesburg as was expected following his trip to Europe. But he was represented at the event by the Senate President David Mark, who led a long list of government dignitaries from both the Federal and state levels. Several Nigerians also travelled on their own  especially after Nigeria shocked Ivory Coast.

The Eagles are expected to arrive in Abuja on Monday(today)  to begin a long list of events lined up to receive them. The celebrations will surely begin at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, the moment their aircraft touches down.

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