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The Nigeria national team proved that they could move up a gear as they beat the Malian team to make the final of Afcon 2013, here are a few things that showed up in that encounter

ANALYSIS
By Babajide Alaka | Deputy Editor

Nigeria have made the final match of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 13 years. They have done that with two scintillating displays - against Cote d'Ivoire and Mali in the quarter final and semi-final respectively and in those two matches, the real Super Eagles have emerged.

With the Super Eagles on the cusp of a third Nations Cup triumph, Brown Ideye, the Dynamo Kiev striker has shown his worth to the team and finally scored his much coveted first championship goal against Mali.

Goal.com looks at five things that helped Nigeria conquer Mali.

IDEYE IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR EAGLES FORWARD TRANSITION

The Eagles have proven over the last two games that they are dangerous in attack and that the players in attack, especially Brown Ideye have shown what continuous mobility can do for the team in the offensive third.

It was sheer brilliance from Brown Ideye during the 2-1 win over Cote d’Ivoire last Sunday as he proved to be the perfect foil for Emmanuel Emenike to perform and also showed his worth against Mali with continuous runs in behind the defence which kept the Malian defence guessing throughout the encounter.

One also has to remember the glorious back-heeled pass to Emenike in Nigeria’s first match against Burkina Faso which resulted in the Super Eagles first goal of the tournament – only the second goal that the Burkinabes have conceded up until the present.

He has selflessly sacrificed himself for the team running the channels and creating space for Emenike and the midfielders to run in behind him. He has also given Emenike the licence to roam the park. His flexibility, hunger and runs have contributed in no small way to getting the Eagles into Sunday’s final.

MOSES IS NIGERIA’S GENUINE OFFENSIVE THRUST

Victor Moses with the one and a half assists against Mali finally showed what range of skills he possesses. His swivel and cross against Adama Tamboura – for which the Malian got stuck and looked lost was the stuff of dreams.

His pass to free Emenike down the right showed exceptional vision and timing and people can now see what qualities Chelsea saw as they prised him away from Wigan at the end of last season.

Against Ethiopia when all forward thrusts had proved abortive, his two runs and successful conversion of the spot kicks ensured that Nigeria progressed to the quarter final round.

In the quarter final against Cote d’Ivoire, he had a 78% pass completion rate while tormenting Emmanuel Eboue and Siake Tiene. He has showed that he can shoulder the responsibility that was bound to be placed on his young shoulders.
KESHI, PLEASE DO MORE ON DEFENDING CORNERS

Mali were out-classed and out-thought by the Super Eagles but it seems that the Achilles heel of the team is still corner kicks.

On two occasions before the 15th minute of the match against Mali, the Eagles almost conceded goals. I do not know whether the team is employing the zonal marking system on set pieces or a man to man approach but whatever method is chosen to defend these set-pieces – the players must be clear in their heads what they are supposed to do.

Against Burkina Faso, who have the hulking Aristide Bance or Moumouni Dagano as  their offensive point men, the Eagles cannot be in the dark as any error could be punished by the giving away of a cheap goal. And what happened to players guiding both posts? The Eagles have done very well to reach the final match, they should not allow any cheap mistake from set pieces to hinder their winning the coveted trophy.
MIKEL CAN BE THE PLAYMAKER FROM DEEP
Finally, Mikel Obi is showing the grace and elegance of midfield domination as he did during the Fifa U-20 World Cup in 2005.

Mikel’s strength is not about dribbling but creating two to beat one situations in midfield and releasing his strikers with pin-point passes. Though he is yet to score, stats from South Africa 2013 show that he has made the most successful completed passes - 247, before the semi-final match against Mali.

Mikel can become Nigeria’s Andrea Pirlo by playmaking for the team from deep and since he lacks a bit of pace, it helps him as he has more time on the ball to pick his passes. He has shown his capacity by directly assisting two goals - the pass to Emenike against Zambia and that defence-splitting pass to Ahmed Musa against Mali on Wednesday.

And you can add the floated ball to Ideye, who back-heeled to Emenike for Nigeria's first goal in the competition against Burkina Faso on January 21, when the journey started.

NFF, POLITICIANS AND BUSINESSMEN – PLEASE LEAVE KESHI ALONE
We are hearing that every successful dribble will attract $10, 000; every save will be $5,000 and all what nots – this is not the time or place to put these kinds of obstacles on the path of the Eagles to winning the 2013 Nations Cup.

And also the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) eggheads should please leave the coach alone to get the job done. We know that you (NFF) never gave the coach any chance (I am also included in the sceptics) to do well in South Africa and we know that plans were underway to sack Keshi and get another ‘white’ coach in his stead.

But having shamed all of us by leading the Super Eagles to the final while playing some expansive football, I believe it behoves on all politicians, businessmen and the NFF to let the coach be, to help his team win our third Nations Cup trophy.

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