The Super Eagles utterly outclassed Mali in the Africa Cup of Nations' first semi-final as they cruised to a comfortable 4-1 victory to book their place in Sunday's final.
The Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban was the venue for a famous occasion in Nigeria’s football history, an afternoon which curtailed the misery of the last decade’s semi-final failures.
The first half began with the Nigerians keen to recall the tempo that had seen off Cote d’Ivoire in the quarter-finals. The opening stages saw chances for both sides, as Mali threatened from set pieces, and Emenike forced a smart save from Samassa – recalled between the sticks to replace penalty hero Diakite.
When it comes to ‘tempo’, however, Victor Moses is often in a class of his own – and this occasion was no different. The Chelsea man was in stunning form, and it was his invention and natural ability that broke the deadlock. Bursting down the right flank, he sold the Malian left-back with a Cruyff turn before sending a delicious curling cross into the six-yard box. Elderson was on hand to finish things off, stooping low to head the ball past Samassa.
It was the defender’s first goal for his nation, drawing parallels with France’s Lillian Thuram, who scored his only international goals in France’s victorious semi-final in ’98.
The dominance continued as Mali’s backline were again cut to shreds. Once more, Moses was the architect; his cross-field run created indecision among the defence, before his delightful pass set Emmanuel Emenike free – the striker opted to play in his partner Ideye Brown, who made no mistake from close range.
Before half time, Naija all but ended the match as a genuine contest. The Super Eagles were awarded a free kick for a tenuous Momo Sissoko tackle on Victor Moses, and Emenike, one of the heroes against Cote d’Ivoire, stepped up.
He did not disappoint, although even he would not have expected the goal to come in such bizarre circumstances. The wall separated, and his fierce shot dribbled into the net, past the stranded Samassa, with Mali looking on aghast.
Months, if not years, of waiting for the talents of Chelsea pair Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel to finally bloom finally came to fruition and both were influential. Moses crafted two goals, performing as many had hoped he would, and Mikel, more subtly, controlled the play, threatening the Malian goal with a powerful strike.
As the game wore on, the differences between the two teams became starker. Mali, demoralised, looked leggy after their tough quarter-final against South Africa, while the Nigerians impressed with their fluid off the ball movement and a hunger throughout the team.
Early in the second half, it became apparent that Mali had realised the game was up, with the pace descending to a canter. Ahmed Musa, on for Moses, was the brightest, and his goal on 60 minutes was the icing on the cake and finally broke Malian resistance once and for all.
A late consolation goal for the Eagles, scored by Mady Diarra, was little succour for a side so outclassed on such a major stage.
It has been a mixed tournament for Patrice Carteron’s Eagles. Qualifying from the group and beating the hosts afforded memorable moments, but they have at times looked like a one-man team, lacking inspiration in attacking areas.
On the other hand, Stephen Keshi’s young Nigerian team are growing boldly into national colours. With a final date set up against either Ghana or Burkina Faso, the sky is the limit for the west African powerhouse. Expect a confident spectacle from the Super Eagles on 10th February in Johannesburg.