Nigeria marched into their first African Cup of Nations final since 2000 after a convincing 4-1 win over Mali in the first semi-final.
Goals from Elderson Echiejile, Brown Ideye, Emmanuel Emenike and Ahmed Musa gave the Super Eagles an unassailable lead before the hour mark, with Cheick Diarra netting a consolation for Mali.
It was not all good news for Nigeria through as livewire strikers Victor Moses and Emenike – who has scored four goals at these finals – both went off injured, although their substitutions were likely to have been precautionary.
Nigeria boss Stephen Keshi now faces the challenge of becoming the second man to win the African Cup of Nations both as a player and a coach, after Egypt’s late icon Mahmoud El-Gohary.
For a country with one of the highest numbers of professional players, Nigeria have underachieved in recent years.
But, after a slow start to these finals, Keshi has got them playing direct, organised football and – hugely importantly, as Ivory Coast found out – as a team.
Mali started the match well enough as Molla Wague and Kalilou Traore headed wide from corners, but the Super Eagles grew into the match and were soon making all the running as Victor Moses in particular proved a nightmare for defenders.
The Chelsea forward – who only recently made his Nigeria debut, having been eligible for England – completely dominated his opposite number Adama Tamboura with a shimmy and a nutmeg before firing in a fantastic swerving cross that Echiejele stooped to head into the bottom right on 25 minutes.
Within five minutes it was 2-0, as Ideye improvised a clever flick after Emenike’s low cross landed just behind the Dynamo Kiev forward.
That effectively ended the match as a contest, as while Mali threw men forward, Nigeria defended well and utilised their superior pace to shred their opponents on the counter attack.
And, just before half-time, they added a third, although there was a huge element of fortune about Emenike’s free-kick, which took a heavy deflection off Momo Sissoko to leave Mamadou Samassa wrong-footed.
Mali did change things at half-time as rangy striker Cheick Diabate came on for Sissoko.
While they did create a chance as the strangely quiet Seydou Keita fired wide from 12 yards, Nigeria rubbed their noses in it when – just after coming on – substitute Musa ran on to Efe Ambrose’s fine pass to roll home a fourth.
Musa was enjoying himself, putting one effort wide and seeing another ruled out for offside after Ideye strayed.
The latter stages did see Nigeria appear to switch off slightly, Vincent Enyeama denying Samassa and Diabate with good saves and Diarra pulling one back after decent work from Diabate on the left.
Indeed, subs Diarra and Diabate looked more threatening in 20 minutes than their team-mates had all game, with Diarra putting two efforts off target after help from his strike partner.
But it was too little too late as Nigeria marched into their first African Cup of Nations final in 13 years, where they will face either Ghana or Burkina Faso.
- Sports & Recreation
- Emmanuel Emenike
- Ahmed Musa
- African Cup of Nations
- Victor Moses