A Lone Goal, a Local's Glory: Mba's Marker Carries Nigeria to the Afcon Championship
For the record, the unassuming Sunday Mba's putback of a Victor Moses volley in the 39th minute gave Nigeria a 1-0 victory over upstart Burkina Faso and its third African Cup of Nations trophy.
For posterity, Super Eagles manager Stephen Keshi became only the second person in the competition's history -- along with Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary -- to hoist the Cup as both a player and a manager.
For pure fate, the drama was in the backstory. As recently as a week before Cup competition began, moves were being made back home to replace Keshi. Among his perceived transgressions was an insistence to include six players from Nigerian Premier League rosters -- players who had never been close enough to the international limelight to even warrant a shadow -- on the national side.
One of them was Sunday Mba, a rising star in the Rangers of Enugu's midfield.
His 20-yard rocket in the quarter-finals not only blasted into the Ivory Coast net, it also exploded the tourney favorites' hopes to finally lay to rest an ascribed legacy of underachievement in this competition. Now, already a hero at home, Mba rose to the occasion again by controlling a badly-angled bounce, weaving quickly into scant space, and deftly placing the ultimate winner just inside the right post.
Burkina Faso's backstory wasn't as dramatic, but its redemptive theme carried a hint of destiny for the upstarts who had never before basked in the bright lights of an international final. The Stallions were the winners of Pool Group C, which included Nigeria and with whom they played to a 1-1 draw. This seeding afforded them the luxury of playing all their matches in Group C's assigned venue: Nelspruit's Mbombela Stadium, which proved to be just as cozy a nest of success in bracket play, where they dispatched Togo and a favored Ghanian side. In the latter, a post-match review of an incredulous decision to raise a second yellow card on Jonathan Pitroipa resulted in its recision, allowing him to re-join Aristide Bancé in a strikeforce tandem of lethal effect. Thus, it appeared that all the elements were in place for a monumental performance in the final.
All but one. The final was in Johannesburg, and Stallion magic didn't transfer to FNB Stadium. Their reliance on the counter was rarely realized, as Pitroipa and Bancé were effectively marked by the likes of Godfrey Oboabona, another one of Keshi's chosen six locals. The Super Eagles' coverage was so thorough, veteran 'keeper Vincent Enyeama was called upon only once to save the game; his outstretched fingertips denied Sanou in the 77th minute.
Keshi has too much class to wag a finger at his doubters, but he'll not need to say a word when he and his hand-picked squad return home in glory. The power-brokers and their media sychophants there have been served notice. Let a wise manager manage. And trust the local talent as much as he does.