Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Chelsea’s Mikel leads Nigeria charge
Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel leads Nigeria's charge to reach their first final since 2000
Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel heads into Wednesday’s semi-final clash with Mali looking to lead Nigeria into their first Africa Cup of Nations final since 2000.
Nigeria managed third place 11 years ago but have not been victorious in the continent’s top competition since the 1994 ‘dream team’.
Mikel was at the heart of the Super Eagles side which dumped his former team-mate Didier Drogba and Premier League champion Yaya Toure out of the quarter-finals on Sunday.
Ivory Coast were touted as favourites by many pre-tournament, with Drogba, the Toure brothers and Arsenal forward Gervinho among their ranks.
But despite out-of-favour ex-Newcastle forward Obafemi Martins not making the trip to South Africa, Nigeria caused problems with their relentless attacking enthusiasm.
Mikel’s Chelsea companion Victor Moses looks to be coming of age and was a constant threat along with the impressive Emmanuel Emenike.
Sunday Mba’s late goal sealed a semi-final final spot for the young Nigerian outfit and a match-up with a Seydou Keita inspired Mali side.
Ex-Barcelona star and Mali captain Keita grabbed a second-half equaliser against hosts South Africa to take their quarter-final bout to extra time.
The Eagles eventually broke Bafana Bafana hearts from the spot, making the most of some poor penalty-taking from the South Africans in front of their home fans.
However, despite the heroics of replacement goalkeeper Soumalia Diakite – who saved two spot-kicks – Mali coach Patrice Carteron has hinted Mamadou Samassa will return to the side after his quarter-final suspension.
Mali head to Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium ranked 27 places higher than their opponents in the Fifa world rankings – the third highest African nation.
But following the emphatic victory over the Ivory Coast – ranked 14th – Mikel and the Super Eagles will be full of confidence heading into their fixture with the world’s number 25.