Nigeria go into to Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final against Burkina Faso looking to claim their third tournament title. The Super Eagles may well be considered favourites but will be wary of the momentum their West African near neighbours have built, culminating in a semi-final victory over Ghana. The two teams met in a close Group C fixture, resulting in a draw following an injury time equalizer for the Burkinabes.
Nigeria though have built momentum of their own, beating pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast and Mali on route to the final. The Super Eagles will be under pressure; at home failure to win may be considered an upset and Nigeria, for so long a dominant force on the continent and in their first final for 13 years, will look for victory to restore that status.
For Stephen Keshi, there are other motivations to victory. Apart from guiding his country to a trophy and back to being a continental power, Keshi would be only the second man to win the tournament as a coach and a player – he was captain of the team when they last won the tournament in 1996. For Keshi, this would also add weight to his argument for more African coaches on the continent. The Nigerian has been critical of the number of average overseas coaches in charge of national teams, instead of good African coaches.
Burkina Faso have looked to play counter-attacking football, and Nigeria may look to score early and force the Stallions to come forward, as such creating space for their own attackers. The Super Eagles will probably line-up in a 4-2-3-1 – as will the Stallions – but will be hoping that two of their key players, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike, will pass late fitness tests.
Both have been integral for Nigeria, Moses scoring twice, Emenike leading the way with four goals. The duo have lined up as the wide players in the attacking three and have been crucial, not just from their goal threat. While Spartak Moscow’s Emenike has proved to be more a direct attacking threat, Moses’s movement has created the more problems for opponents. Moses has strength and pace, and can offer a threat attacking the out wide.
However, Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi has also had Moses attacking on an inside diagonal when the left-back, Elderson Echiejile gets forward. The inside movement draws defenders in, creating space for the full-back to get forward.
What may be a surprise for many Premier League watchers is the role of John Obi Mikel. At Chelsea, he is normally a sitting defensive midfielder, but for the Super Eagles he plays more of creative role. While his main position is on the left hand side of the holding duo, he gets forward and plays passes particularly to the flanks.
Arguably, the two Chelsea players will be Nigeria’s most influential players and may decide the outcome of the final.
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