Not the final most expected, but surprises are a big part of one of the hardest to predict international football tournaments on the planet as Nigeria step onto the pitch in Johannesburg as huge favorites to win their third Africa Cup of Nations title, facing the cinderella of the tournament, Burkina Faso.
It’s been 13 years since Nigeria last reached the final of the ACN, which was pretty much the end of their golden age as a national team, although individual talent is something this nation has never been short of, along with huge egos. Stephen Keshi decided to give up on veterans and proven players with their European clubs, basing himself on a very young squad, relying on the attacking brilliance of Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike (the top scorer in the competition with 4 goals), John Obi Mikel in the center of midfield and Vincent Enyeama between the posts.
It started out a little rocky with two draws in the group stage, but then came the win against Ethiopia, the fantastic 2-1 victory against the Ivory Coast, as Sunday Mba scored the winning goal and a brilliant performance against Mali in the semifinal, lead by Emenike and Moses.
Burkina Faso already held Nigeria to a draw in both side’s opening match in the tournament, as Alain Traore scored an equalizer deep into injury time. It hasn’t been a road of great football from the Stallions, winning only once in regulation during the tournament, needing an extra time goal against Togo to come through the quarterfinals, and stunned Ghana by drawing the match into a penalty shootout, as Aristide Bancé scored both the match equalizer and the clinching penalty kick.
Despite not having a single player in the local league (unlike Nigeria with 6), Burkina Faso are huge underdogs heading into the match, thankful for the cancellation of the suspension to possibly their best player next to Alain Traore (3 goals in the tournament), winger Jonathan Pitroipa.
Predictions – Zambia shocked the Ivory Coast a year ago to win the title, so why not Burkina Faso against a Nigerian team that isn’t as talented as the Elephants from 2012? Nigeria play attacking football but with surprising discipline in the back. As long as they keep their composure and not allow too much space for Burkina Faso counter attacks, they should find the way to make the most of their quality superiority in the match.