Nigeria vs Burkina Faso 18:00 SS4
JOHANNESBURG - Nigeria are expected to be crowned African football kings a third time Sunday by bringing the fairytale run of Burkina Faso to an end.
Man for man, the Super Eagles look stronger than the Stallions ahead of the title match at the 85 000-capacity Soccer Stadium in Johannesburg.
Nigeria boast an amazingly consistent Cup of Nations record with 13 top-three finishes in 16 previous appearances while Burkina Faso arrived in South Africa last month desperate to end a 17-match run without a victory.
While the Super Eagles lifted the symbol of African national-team supremacy at home in 1980 and in Tunisia in 1994, the closest the Stallions have come is reaching the semifinals as hosts of the 1998 tournament.
They ended the win-less streak in style by thrashing Ethiopia in Nelspruit, and three of the goals came after being reduced to 10 men when goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama was red carded.
It is a final no one outside of the two countries could have imagined with perennial pre-competition favourites Ivory Coast, four-time champions Ghana, hosts South Africa and young, talented Algeria being strongly backed.
Nigeria and Burkina Faso have already met in this competition, drawing 1-1 in a Group C opener with Emmanuel Emenike giving the Eagles a first half advantage they held until now-injured Alain Traore levelled deep in stoppage time.
The Eagles also drew with defending champions Zambia before victories over Ethiopia, star-stacked title favourites Ivory Coast and Mali propelled them to a final they enter as 1-2 favourites with local bookmakers.
Burkina Faso followed the draw with Nigeria by whipping Ethiopia, holding title-holders Zambia and edging Togo through an extra-time goal and Ghana on penalties.
Nigeria handler Stephen Keshi, who hopes to emulate late Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary and win Cup of Nations gold medals as a player and a coach, is taking nothing for granted and reluctantly accepts the favourites tag.
“What we have achieved so far will not help us come Sunday – the final is where you have to prove that you are the best team in Africa and worthy of the gold medals,” he stressed.
Key figures in the Nigerian class of 2013 include goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, centre-backs Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo, midfielders John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses and four-goal joint leading competition scorer Emenike.
Burkina Faso coach Paul Put is hoping to become the first Belgian coach of a Cup of Nations-winning team has worked miracles using 16 of the 23 players who lost all three group games at the 2012 tournament in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea.
“We have grown, and so have Nigeria, with each game and our initial aim of achieving a win to end that terrible record is now a distant memory. Now we must analyse our opponents and see what we can do,” said Put.
Stars like goalkeeper Daouda Diakite, defenders Bakary Kone and Paul Koulibaly, midfielders Charlos Kabore, Djakaridja Kone and Jonathan Pitroipa and striker Aristide Bance have found a new lease of life under the Belgian.