THE superior Super Eagles of Nigeria demolished Mali’s Eagles 4-1 on Wednesday night to book a place in the African Nations Cup final for the first time since co-hosting the tournament with Ghana 13 years ago.
This was the semifinal many had hoped Bafana Bafana would be taking part in but that was not to be and the Durban faithful opted to stay at home.
Nonetheless, the colourful Nigerian supporters came out in numbers, and if their team was brilliant in evicting favourites Côte d’Ivoire in the quarterfinals, they moved up a level to book a ticket to Sunday’s final in Johannesburg.
Mali started the brighter of the two West African countries, with midfielder Kalilou Traore twice nodding wide after getting on the end of Mahamane Traore’s zipping corners in the opening 10 minutes.
John Obi Mikel, at the centre of the Nigerian midfield, did a good job on fellow European Champion’s League winner Seydou Keita to allow his speedy countrymen to run at the Mali players.
Nigeria balanced the scales when a good looping ball by Mikel found Emmanuel Emenike wide down the right. The striker turned into the box to create space for a good shot that was well saved by Mamadou Samassa. A cheeky back heel one-two with Aide Brown Ideye could have allowed Emenike through for another chance but the Mali defence held firm. That move turned the heat up in the game.
A long-range bender from Mikel and an unsuccessful Mali penalty shout followed.
Victor Moses took over proceedings midway through the first half and sparked Nigeria’s goal spree.
The nifty Chelsea winger embarrassed Mali left-back Adama Tamboura, one of the Eagles ’ most dependable players of the tournament, with a bag of tricks before crossing into the corridor of uncertainty.
Elderson Echiejile threw his head at the low ball to open the scoring.
It was 2-0 before the Eagles could comprehend how they had allowed Nigeria so much space in their danger area.
In the 30th minute, Moses was all over them again. He broke free in midfield, sucked the Mali defensive pair out of position before setting Emenike free down the right. Emenike wasted no time, crossed and Ideye did the easy part.
Mali had fought throughout the tournament. They fought to get a place in the second round after losing their second match to Ghana, fought back from 1-0 down to level 1-1 and eliminated South Africa in a penalty shootout. But when Emenike’s deflected free kick rolled into the net to make the score 3-0 to Nigeria before half-time, the Malians looked to have lost the fight.
For the half-time team talk, though, it was worth remembering that Mali were a team that had recovered from a 4-0 deficit to draw 4-4 against the 2010 host Angola. Nigeria needed to do what SA failed to do — keep scoring goals when you have Mali under pressure.
The comeback would have been on had Keita found the target after receiving a neat low cross from substitute Cheick Fantamady Diarra. The Mali skipper looked tired, weary, as if he had given everything he had in the win over Bafana.
But substitute Ahmed Musa, on for the electric Moses in the second half, put an end to all hopes of a dramatic Mali comeback when he sprung the offside trap to make it 4-0 to Nigeria in the 60th minute.
This is not the way Patrice Carteron’s brave soldiers would have wanted to bow out of the tournament and Diarra tried to restore some respectability to the scoreline, finishing off a pass by Cheik Diabate. It was, however, too little, too late.