Two of Africa's Heavyweights came head to head in Rustenburg as the Afcon's third semi-final place was claimed; the Super Eagles upset the the odds by eliminating Cote d'Ivoire
The Golden Generation of the Cote d'Ivoire finally came to the end of the road as they were usurped by Stephen Keshi's plucky Super Eagles at the King Bafokeng Stadium. Nigeria took the lead against the lethargic Elephants through a wonderful Emmanuel Emenike strike, before Cheik Tiote equalised with a header just after the interval. In an engrossing second half, Sunday Mba wrote his name in Naija folklore by finishing a hopeful run with a deflected finish past Boubacar Barry.
For the first half of action it seemed like the Super Eagles had turned back the clock and rolled back the years. Gone was the timidity and the nervousness that had characterised their dull group encounters, the side looked bold and brave. In comparison, the Ivorians, so well-fancied before the tournament, looked laborious and lethargic – their casual approach matching the unprofessional nicknames on some of their shirts.
It felt like 1994 as the Super Eagles burst forward. Victor Moses, the nation’s saviour against Ethiopia, was once again influential – his tenacious running and ferocious speed constantly causing problems for the Ivorian defenders. Emmanuel Emenike was also looking to capture the form of the opening 45 minutes against Burkina Faso, although the striker fired over from near point-blank range in the first half.
With the interval approaching, Nigerian enterprise eventually paid off. Soon after Yaya Toure had been forced into a shoulder block to curtail Moses’s advance, the Super Eagles won a free kick 30 yards out. John Obi Mikel laid the ball off, and Emenike, with the weight of 19 years of anguish behind him, fired the ball over the wall into the goal. Perhaps Copa Barry in the Ivorian net should have done better, but few in Nigeria cared, as the finish sparking furious celebration among their massed ranks.
The euphoria of the first half was not to last into the second. Moments after Salomon Kalou had been cautioned for simulation in the Nigerian box, Didier Drogba was brought to ground by Efe Ambrose. It was the Super Eagles’ moment to look inert, and they were promptly punished as Cheick Tiote headed the ball past Enyeama. The keeper promptly remonstrated with his static defence, but the damage had been done.
The second half unrolled with both sides looking to attack, and creating a number of opportunities. Elderson went close with a blocked shot when Moses was perhaps better placed. The miss threatened to be costly, that was, until Sunday Mba decided to introduce himself into the game's narrative. Running boldly at the Ivorian defence, the striker, included at the expense of the likes of Peter Odemwingie and Obafemi Martins, sent a deflected shot up and over Boubacar Barry.
It prompted ecstatic scenes in Rustenburg, as Stephen Keshi's men played out a nervy final ten minutes as the Ivorians pushed. John Obi Mikel must get a mention for a terrific tackle on Traore, but the whole team will be heralded as heroes after a glorious victory and well-deserved progression. They now face Mali in the semi-final on Wednesday.