Africa

Emenike can lead Nigeria to victory in Jo’burg

The sort of stereotypical image you see during the African Cup of Nations
The sort of stereotypical image you see during the African Cup of Nations

The African Cup of Nations reaches a climax this weekend with the final on Sunday between Burkina Faso and Nigeria. The competition has a habit of producing shocks, and this year’s favourities, Ivory Coast and Ghana, fell at the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.

Not many people expected either side to reach the final, especially the Burkinabe’s.To be frank, I had never heard of Burkina Faso as a country until fairly recently, but then it was called Upper Volta until 1984. They finished fourth in the 1998 edition when they hosted the CAN and they are 92nd in FIFA’s near-meaningless rankings. Nigeria, we all know about, but surprisingly, they have not won the CAN since 1994. Their current coach, Stephen Keshi was in that team.

Nigeria will start as red-hot favourites, especially as they disposed of the disappointing Ivory Coast in the last eight, but Burkina Faso have shown a lot of spirit in what has been a lack-lustre tournament.

Nigeria’s ace card is Emmanuel Emenike, the joint-leading scorer in the competition (along with Ghana’s Wakaso Mubarek). He’s got four goals and has been in top form throughout, netting an excellent strike against the Ivorians in the quarter-finals. He’s an interesting character who plys his trade with Spartak Moscow. His career has been punctuated with controversial incidents, not least in his portrayal of a syringe injecting into his arm when confronted by a referee during a game.

Emmenike could face a spell behind bars if a charge of match-fixing in Turkey sticks. He was among a group of players who were alleged to have been involved, but thought he was in the clear, but was later charged. I wonder if he’s watched Midnight Express?

As for Burkina Faso, their hopes have been dashed by injury and suspension. Top scorer Alain Traore will not play due to an injury picked up in the group games. Defender Mohammed Koffi is also injured after impressing in the early games. And influential midfielder Jonthan Pitroipa was sent off in the semi-final with Ghana and is likely to miss the game, although there’s a chance that the decision may be over-turned.

The two teams know each other well. They met in the group stage, drawing 1-1, so expect a cagey opening in Jo’Burg. By tip is a Nigeria win by at least two goals, with Emenike the matchwinner.

In many ways, this was a competition that nobody really wanted. It was only last year that the last series took place and now the sequence has been aligned to avoid clashing with Europe’s own showpiece, the next one will be in 2015. Just why African insists on such a major tournament every two years is anyone’s guess….

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