GERALD IMRAY | AP
Published — Sunday 10 February 2013
Last update 11 February 2013 5:52 am
JOHANNESBURG: Nigeria returned to the top of African football on Sunday by beating Burkina Faso 1-0 in the Cup of Nations final for its first continental title in nearly two decades.
Sunday Mba’s superb goal in the 40th minute delivered another triumph for coach Stephen Keshi after he captained Nigeria to its last African Cup crown in 1994.
“Winning this tournament is mainly for my nation,” Keshi said. “When I came on board a year and a half ago my dream is to make all Nigerians happy.”
Mba decided the game in front of around 87,000 fans at Soccer City with a left-foot volley into the far right corner after he expertly controlled a rebound and clipped the ball over a defender.
Underdog Burkina Faso fell short of what would have been a surprising triumph in its first final, having progressed beyond the group stage for only the second time at the African championship. The Burkinabes still exceeded all expectations by just making the final.
“Football is football. You have to be great when you win and humble when you lose,” Burkina Faso coach Paul Put said. “Congratulations to Nigeria. Maybe we showed Nigeria too much respect.”
Mba’s goal came after Victor Moses’ shot was blocked, and was worthy of deciding a final. In three swift motions, Mba controlled the ball, chipped it over Mohamed Koffi and then volleyed across goalkeeper Daouda Diakite and into the far right corner for the title-clinching goal.
It gave Nigeria its third African Cup title and made Keshi just the second man to win the tournament as both a player and coach. He is the first black African coach to win the continent’s biggest prize in over 20 years.
“I’m so, so proud of what they did at this tournament,” Keshi said of his team.
Wilfried Sanou had a powerful low shot saved in the 74th minute in Burkina Faso’s best chance for an equalizer, but Nigeria controlled most of the game and wasted a couple of late chances to extend its lead.
The victory ended 19 years of disappointment for Africa’s most populous nation, and also made it the last country to qualify for June’s Confederations Cup in Brazil as continental champion.
Keshi brought Joseph Yobo off the bench in the 89th minute to give the veteran defender and regular captain a chance to finally lift the trophy in his sixth and last African Cup.
“It feels great,” Yobo said. It’s a dream come true. I’ve been around for 11 or 12 years and this is my sixth African Cup. I said it was going to be my last. I’m short of words. This is a massive achievement.”
Moments after the final whistle, the winning players picked up Nigeria flags from their supporters and ran around the field waving them. The players then huddled with their arms lifted before defender Efe Ambrose ran toward the biggest Nigeria fan section and did a series of backflips.
Players danced together just before the medal ceremony and Keshi was carried on the shoulders of some team members, waving to the fans. Yobo then lifted the gold trophy, with players and coaching staff donning green and white t-shirts with the text ‘Nigeria, champions of Africa’ on the front.
Ambrose had hit the first shot of the game inside a minute and then headed a free kick from Moses just over the crossbar in the seventh.
Moses also caused trouble for the Burkina Faso defense and Nigeria was far more enterprising than its underdog opponent in the first quarter. The Chelsea forward beat his marker down the left wing in the 20th — having also threatened earlier down the right — and put in a dangerous low cross that Diakite smothered.
Tall blonde-haired striker Aristide Bance had Burkina Faso’s first real effort in the 25th, but sent it rising high and to the right of Vincent Enyeama’s goal.
Bance’s 28th-minute free kick then skipped just wide of the left post as the Burkinabes began to slowly find their feet in their country’s biggest ever game.
The teams retreated to cautious play toward the end of the first half, with the sellout crowd at Soccer City responding with a wave around the stadium.
Bakary Kone’s header at the back post from Charles Kabore’s deep free kick seven minutes before halftime was well wide.
Minutes later, Mba’s strike gave the Nigerians a deserved lead as his surging run, juggle and quick-witted volley left Diakite stationary near his goal-line as the ball flew past him.
Brown Ideye hit a low shot across the Burkina Faso goal in the opening minutes of the second half after more work from the impressive Moses as Nigeria remained in control.
Burkina Faso was looking to cause a similar upset to Zambia’s victory a year ago, but found its first major final tough going at Johannesburg’s 2010 World Cup final venue, having played all their previous games in Nelspruit. Star player Jonathan Pitroipa, who was cleared to play after having a red card from the semifinals rescinded, failed to make an impact in the game.
Nigeria seemed content with defending its slender lead from around the 70th minute and Burkina Faso began to make some late progress.
After Musa Ahmed slipped when through on goal for Nigeria on a counterattack, Sanou’s blistering low shot at the other hand forced a good save from Vincent Enyeama, who pushed it just inches past the left post.