Nigeria built for the kill

Posted: 5 February 2013 Time: 02:44 pm

And then there were four. Just like that, Africa’s 16 finest have been whittled down to four – Nigeria, Mali, Ghana and Burkina Faso.

Nigeria go into their semi-final against Mali as slight favourites following their famous win over Ivory Coast, still, back home, they remain underestimated. Indeed, were it not for Sunday Mba’s moment of brilliance, reports suggest coach Stephen Keshi would be out of a job.

It is a result of the Nigerian public’s fascination with the 1998 World Cup ‘Dream Team’, perhaps Africa’s finest ever performers – in a purely footballing sense – on the world stage.

Although Nigeria didn’t progress past the Last 16 in 1998, it was the zenith of a spectacular era, encompassing a 1994 Nations Cup title, ‘94 World Cup second round and 1996 Olympic gold, and would culminate in a luck-less loss to Cameroon in the 2000 Nations Cup Final.

It’s this era that has transfixed Nigeria, burdened its teams, and hung over the plethora of coaches that have followed – 11 to be exact since 2001.

Times have changed, though. Subsequent European scouting trends have, for the most part, seen to this.

Twenty years ago Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu and Finidi George were the silky, technical Nigerian gems scouted and polished. The focus since the turn of the millennium has shifted somewhat and today you find Nigeria’s most cerebral player, their number 10, John Obi Mikel, is a defensive midfielder at his club.

Keshi, in contrast to the majority of his countrymen and predecessors, has recognised this. There’s no middle ground in his Super Eagles team. It’s all speed, power and athleticism.

Plodding midfielders such as Dickson Etuhu and Seyi Olofinjana have been replaced with the athleticism of Ogenyi Onazi and Nosa Igiebor. Up-front the team is packed with the throwback Nigerian forward – big, fast and relentless.

It is a scary mix which, when it clicks, could define a new age for African football, certainly west Africa.

CLICK HERE for more on the 2013 Afcon

There has been an uneasy compromise in the region lately with coaches unable to mesh their European stars together with a national team identity. This compromise has stifled cohesion. An example is Ivory Coast, which consists of players who do jobs at their clubs, but lack the spontaneity to succeed on the international stage.

Keshi has done away with seeking any compromise, for there are no longer any Okockas or Sunday Olisehs. Keshi has instead shunned established stars for players that fit his system and vision. Dynamism is the order of the day.

So said Keshi after their quarterfinal victory: “Ivory Coast are the top team on the continent with lots of quality, so we tried to speed up and try to catch out players like Drogba and Yaya Toure.”

It has given this Nigeria team an identity, one akin to the successful Super Eagles teams Keshi featured in as a player which contained, amongst others, the uncontainable Rashidi Yekini and current assistant coach Daniel Amokachi.

Keshi’s vision probably won’t come together yet – Nations Cup victory or not – but future assignments such as the 2014 World Cup look tasty if coach and squad are kept together.

At this tournament Nigeria’s development of their game-plan hasn’t been helped by the scandalous Mbombela pitch. Although they aren’t a passing team, such a blitzkrieg game-plan needs precision. Twenty passes are minimised into five incisive probes. The Mbombela field, where the Super Eagles played their first two matches, never allowed this.

The team’s decision making has also held them back; too often the final ball has been rushed. This can be put down to inexperience though; 30 year-old keeper Vincent Enyeama aside, the average of Nigeria’s starting team against Ivory Coast was 23.

Nigeria’s opponents Mali have proved themselves to be a genuine African force; two successive Afcon semi-finals is no mean feat.

Mali offer a contrast in style to Nigeria. Their approach is more pragmatic, less prone to mistakes, slow in build-up and built for the counterattack. They have also shown over these past two Nations Cups that they can absorb enormous amounts of pressure and eventually turn the screw.

This calm-headedness is embodied by their captain Seydou Keita, a majestic footballer who is imperious with his feet and even more inspiring with his head.

It remains to be seen though, if Mali can force the issue which is invariably what you need to do when you reach this stage of a tournament. Last year against the Ivory Coast they were thoroughly outplayed. Nigeria don’t quite have the tools to out-play Mali in the same way, but they have the weapons to destroy. This Keshi team is built for the kill.

Ghana, newly-installed favourites by many, will have it tough in the other semi. Burkina Faso coach Paul Put has already said his side feel ‘at home’ at Mbombela. And so they should. This will be the Stallions’ fifth game on the disastrous pitch, more than any other team.

Burkina Faso are spoilers, ready to feed on errors. Mbombela suits this mind-set fits perfectly. The pitch is an equaliser, something Burkina Faso, robbed of their superstar Alain Traore by injury, will be even more grateful for.

That’s not to say Ghana are the most technical team; they were outplayed for large periods by Cape Verde and if wasn’t for the heroics of their keeper Fatau Dauda – and the naivety of their opponents – they would be watching from home.

Even so, the Black Stars are a team that wants to be on the front foot, creating chances through skilled players such as Kwadwo Asamoah, Christian Atsu and Solomon Asante. It will be a struggle for Ghana.

Upsets have been par for the course at this Nations Cup, and for Burkina Faso, Mbombela is the perfect stage to produce yet another one.

By Teboho Molapo

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Mseja
posted: 03:17pm 05/02/2013
Mali stands a chance of winning AFcon 2013 for emulating Bafana Bafana.

K4L till Sonono agcoke ipanty
▌▌ Y1NKA ,¸¸,ø¤º°º¤ ᵀᴴᴱ'ᴼᴿᴵᴳᴵᴻᴬᴸ ╚ll╝
posted: 03:24pm 05/02/2013
▌▌✨Yiηkα ★....Oηє ℓσvє Nαιjα

I really hope our Super Eagles faces Ghana in the FINAL ....It'll be a fitting match & ALL MY FEARS ARE NOW FAR GONE. Up Eagles!!!
kingpee
posted: 03:29pm 05/02/2013
my finalists are NIGERIA and borkinafaso
Mseja
posted: 03:30pm 05/02/2013
Mali all the way to the finals .
ZION 2
posted: 03:33pm 05/02/2013
Steven! Okechukwu!! Keshi!!!.. Mali must fall Mali must fall!!.. PLS guys we need the clue to win the Malians. No more silly talks.
jipas
posted: 03:53pm 05/02/2013
I hope Mali or Burkina Faso win it.Not the druglords
pacalisa
posted: 04:05pm 05/02/2013
gud lucky guys, u deserve where you are.
ola ola
posted: 04:35pm 05/02/2013
Jipas, why are you jealous of excellence. Nigeria is the king of african football
CEK
posted: 04:51pm 05/02/2013
We will have Burkina faso vs Nigeria in the Finals. I will be shocked if Ghana can beat Burkina faso on two reasons; Ghana are playing a fast and quick game but not so much as a team and not physically better than Burkinabes, but they try to play physical game which they cant much with Burkinabes.And second, that horrible MBOMBELA playing surface will be to the advantage of Burkinabes coz they dont play flat football like SA, zambia and Nigeria, and Ghana plays a little bit like these countries which will make them find difficult to play in this playing surface. Nigeria have found a rithym and motivated more especially that they are not at Mbombela I foresee them even winning the AFRICA CUP. The only block for Nigeria is the Divine intervation which may see Mali being given the game because of the Pains at home. It wll give Mali a consolation.Nigeria will have themselves to blame if they dont Pray harder for their right to win the 2013 Africa Cup.
UZ0
posted: 04:57pm 05/02/2013
They are not built for the kill....Please everyone hold on to the anointing oil for now.
If they were built for the kill, they would have killed Zambia and B.Faso in their group games but they let them both come back and tie the game. That does not show killer instinct.
They have played 1 good game out of 4, while you can say they are playing better when it matters most, it remains to be seen if they will get big head and lose their next game.
I say if they lose their next game then its all for nothing.
So lets wait and see 2moro what they do
I wish them luck but pray they dont get big head.
Ivory Coast took them for granted (based on their group game plays and suffered for it) no one will be taking them for granted again.
What they do from now on will define them as chokers or champions.

UZO
oga
posted: 05:48pm 05/02/2013
Uzo, alias anonymous, the Eagles don't have to prove anything after all the likes of you wrote them off even before the tournament started. Win or lose, these boys are a team for the future. Some of us who believe in this squad are looking at Brazil 2014.
Laomedon
posted: 06:03pm 05/02/2013
From now on, I christen these eagles; Super Blitzkrieg Eagles.
Viva SBE viva!
UZ0
posted: 06:03pm 05/02/2013
@ OGA

Yes they do need to prove something to us skeptics. That is what team do, prove ppl wrong or right. From Real Madrid to Man U, to Chelsea, they will either prove you right or wrong.
You can say that this is a team of the future if you like but here are facts that even you cant deny:
The group play this team played would have got them embarrassed in the World Cup 2014.
This team has only played only ONE good game and thats against Ivory Coast. Their other games have left much to be desired. Hopefully they are getting better which will be a good thing but based on future games and its importance.
Maybe they are peaking at the right time.
We can only make our judgement based on what we saw and what we saw was a team that couldnt hold leads and scored 1 and defend. So how are we supposed to believe that mentality will win AFCON let alone World Cup.
So, call me a skeptic but dont make it seem like this team was playing well or like this team would have made it out of their group in world cup if they were paired with Belgian, Uruguay and Japan or Mexico. They way they played their group games, they would have finished last.
You know there is truth to all i have said.

BY UZO
kenkaba
posted: 06:17pm 05/02/2013
Mseja, emulating bafana?? Do u even know what the word means!!?
Commonsense
posted: 07:12pm 05/02/2013
By God's grace, the favor that saw us thru Cote d Ivoire will stay with us to the very end. I don't want to know how good Keshi is as a coach or how terrible he is either. All I care to know is how much God has his back and that of the team. Let him be inspired to make the right decisions and responding as necessary. Though I do know that if they keep their discipline, Mali and subsequent opponent should watch us ultimately excell.

Should by the grace of God we overcome Mali we care not if the final opponent be Ghana or Bourkina Faso what we care is for God to overcome all opposition on our behalf. Yes, we can't do it without God.
9ja Guy
posted: 07:52pm 05/02/2013
Naija and Burkina faso final..
ola2014
posted: 08:06pm 05/02/2013
I agree with your assessment of Nigerian football. It is shamefull that a country could hire and fire 11 coaches in a little over 10yrs, that is an average of one coach per year which is not a recepe for success. I have seen Nigeria played three times under Keshi which doesnt leave me enough room to an informed opinion. However, that been said it looked like they have progressed since the opening match of this tournament. The only area or worry are on defensive clearance and finishing on offense. I think they left so many goals on the pitch in the three games they have played so far due to poor finishing. Those are correctible errors as they continue to play together with every player knowing their role. An established line up will also aleviate some of the issues, the group that played the match against Togo offers hope and it seems to have chemistry. Competition in training is another way to insure every player play to their potential whenever called upon. The talent is there in the country, managing those talent is where there is a shortage.
Paulooma
posted: 08:17pm 05/02/2013
The Super Eagles are improving as each game progresses and I have no doubt dat dis game is gonna b a cracker though the Malian are gonna pose a fighting spirit bt Nigeria is gonna stay victorious.... Seeing Nigeria vs Burkina Faso for the Finals.....
Anonymous
posted: 09:09pm 05/02/2013
Coach Keshi and his staff. Great team selection against Ivory Coast. Your were all incredible.

Good luck to you and your fabulous team tomorrow against Mali. Keep the fire burning.

Fat Chick
Anonymous
posted: 10:59pm 05/02/2013
now we have alot of better field ,why cann.t CAF move Ghana and burkina faso match
to a better stadium. this nesprut stadium pitch can be used as an excuse by a losing team.
Anonymous
posted: 11:04pm 05/02/2013
the super eagles have to take Mali very seriously they are a very solid team and also very focus.
sunny
king pondo..., aka glamour boy
posted: 12:19am 06/02/2013
i back Mali to win it. I think they are a very strong team mentaly and physicaly fit they take their time and don't change the game plan. (Keita can go to hell for what he did to yeye ) with that said i think keita is by far the best player in this 2013 Afcon. Plus his a great leader his always level headed,and he has that never say die atitude. Mali to lift the afcon 2013
AGK
posted: 01:41am 06/02/2013
Mail is not a good team,RSA domin the game from a to z
▌▌ Y1NKA ,¸¸,ø¤º°º¤ ᵀᴴᴱ'ᴼᴿᴵᴳᴵᴻᴬᴸ ╚ll╝
posted: 02:24am 06/02/2013
▌▌✨Yiηkα ★....Oηє ℓσvє Nαιjα

AGK ...You are so right!!!

MIKEL or MOSES has to be the stand out player of this tournament. MBA vs Ivory coast has to be the goal of the tournament, running all the way dribling pass ONE, TWO, THREE and so called MAESTRO before patiently sending the ball into the net. #AbsoluteClassic

BANANA BANANA ....Na jealousy go kill you all
UZ0
posted: 04:20am 06/02/2013
For those in the States, you can watch the game on ESPN3 (online)
Anonymous
posted: 10:26am 06/02/2013
NIGERIA VS BURKINA IN FINAL ON SUNDAY
soccerpundit
posted: 12:24pm 06/02/2013
I know South Africa is not gonna make it to the world cup in Brazil next year.
Mark my words. Igesund will be sacked afterall.
Tico MP
posted: 02:19pm 06/02/2013
shapa mali shapa
Ebimocliff
posted: 05:58pm 06/02/2013
the super eagles are tearing the malian eagles to shreds. we are not built for the kill, we are built to devastate and destroy.
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