Nigeria will be trying to win the African Cup of Nations for the first time in nearly two decades when it faces a Burkina Faso team hoping for an upset and its first major title Sunday.
Burkina Faso enters the decisive match looking to shock African football, just as Zambia did when it beat Ivory Coast last year. It will have leading striker Jonathan Pitroipa available after his red card in the semifinal was rescinded, but it remained unclear if injured Nigerian attacking duo Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike will be fit for the match at Soccer City.
The final will be a rematch of the teams’ opener in Group C, which ended in a 1-1 draw after Nigeria conceded an injury-time equalizer in Nelspruit.
Nigeria is seeking its first title since 1994 and third overall. The Super Eagles rebounded from a sluggish start in the group stage. The team looked impressive when it beat Ivory Coast 2-1 in the quarterfinals and trashed Seydou Keita’s Mali 4-1 in the semis.
“We know the importance of the game. We’ve come this far, as a group we want to win it but it’s football, everything can happen,” Nigeria defender Joseph Yobo said. “It’s been a long time.”
Burkina Faso, ranked only 23rd in Africa entering the tournament, reached the semifinals for only the second time and its first since hosting the tournament in 1998. The Stallions initially just hoped to make it past the group stage, but the expectations were raised after they eliminated Togo 1-0 in the quarters and favorite Ghana on penalties in the semis.
“We respect a lot the team of Nigeria. They have big players who play at the highest level in Europe,” said Burkina Faso’s Belgian coach, Paul Put.
Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi is trying to become the first African coach to win the cup since Ivory Coast’s Yeo Martial in 1992.
In last night’s third-place playoof, Mali defeated Ghana 3-1. Mahamadou Samassa gave Mali a first-half lead and Seydou Keita doubled the lead three minutes after the restart. After Mubarak Wakaso missed a penalty for Mali in the 58th minutes, Kwadwo Asamoah gave Ghana a glimmer of hope with a goal in the 82nd minute, only for Sigamary Diarra to put the result beyond doubt deep into injury time.