Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Look beyond rankings to decide final fate

Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Favourites Nigeria determined to prove themselves worthy of following class of 1994

Sportsbeat
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For some, this Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final resembles David and Goliath as one of the continent’s traditional powerhouses take on the plucky upstarts.

Their compared records might justify this comparison – Nigeria have been in four of the last six semi final stages, whereas the 1998 semi-finals represents Burkina Faso’s best-ever finish.

Yet the truth is much more complex – despite sensationally upsetting the Ivory Coast and demolishing the Malians in the knock-outs, Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo has been constantly on the defensive.

Confronted with rumours of in-fighting in the Super Eagles camp, Yobo said: “We are a united team, we have no issues.

“In our team, there is no space for people who seek personal glory – we are working as a team.

“If Joseph Yobo is on the bench, he has to give 100 per cent support to those on the field. I know my role in this team, Stephen Keshi has told me what he expects from me.”

The accusations of discord came after Yobo found himself benched for the Mali rout – and this is not the only issue the veteran centre-back found himself combating this week.

The current squad are constantly and unfavourably compared to the trophy-winning class of 1994, the spectre of such talents as Jay-Jay Okocha forcing undue pressure upon them.

The existence of these now-legendary names has always provided a stick to beat contemporary sides with – it is no wonder Yobo spoke of forging a new, separate path.

He said: “First of all, we have a lot of respect for the guys who won this competition in 1994, they are heroes back home.

“We cannot compare ourselves to them – we want to make our own history, we have our destiny in our own hands and I believe we can win this tournament on Sunday.

“We are capable, we have what it takes to win.”

The message is almost a negative one, yet entirely relevant – it is only by casting aside the millstone of 1994 that the Super Eagles can possibly soar again.

Nigeria’s opponents in Johannesburg find themselves in altogether unfamiliar place after their upset penalty victory against a fancied Ghanaian side.

The Stallions have bucked the odds to reach the final, playing slick, attractive football even after five games on the ragged Mbombela Stadium pitch in Nelspruit.

And with the reinstatement of the outstanding Jonathan Pitroipa, following a recinded red card, and the long-awaited introduction of a decent pitch, many are tipping the Burkinabe for a surprise.

Chief amongst them is defender Djakaridja Kone – he said: “Nigeria will have a lot of confidence after their win against Ivory Coast – but we have a good team with good players.

“We like to play good football so on a nice pitch we will look to play more good football.

“I am confident we can win the cup – we will work hard and hope to bring the cup back to Burkina Faso.”

If Pitroipa can once again combine with energetic forward Aristides Banse – the goalscorer against Ghana – against the occasionally haphazard Super Eagles defence, Kone’s prediction might yet prove accurate.

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