Make no mistake about it – a quarter-final defeat is a devastating loss for the Ivory Coast. They have been installed as favourites in the last four tournaments but failed to win any of them. In 2006 and 2012 they finished runners-up, while in 2008 they finished fourth and in 2010 they made it to the quarter-finals. This is the latest in a long series of heartbreaks for the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ of Ivorian football. Former Chelsea star Didier Drogba, who captains the team, is 34 years old and unlikely to ever have a chance at winning it again. Former Tottenham star Didier Zokora has also likely played his last Afcon game. The Elephants will once again be one of the tournament favourites in two years but the fact remains they have a wasted a golden to win it with Drogba – one of the best African players in history.
Nigeria travelled to South Africa without established forward stars such as Obafemi Martins and Peter Odemwingie but they have not struggled in front of goal. That is because of the hugely impressive trio of Chelsea star Victor Moses, Spartak Moscow’s Emmanuel Emenike and Dynamo Kiev striker Ideye Brown.
Emenike netted the opener against the Ivory Coast and Brown gave their defence fits with his aerial prowess from set-pieces. Moses was a constant threat in this game, as he has been throughout the tournament, and he will depart South Africa with an enhanced reputation regardless of whether Nigeria are victorious or not. His pace, power and dribbling have been hugely impressive, as have his deliveries from set-pieces. If the Super Eagles are to win their Afcon title since 1994, it will be because of these three players.
This year’s instalment of the Africa Cup of Nations is not blessed by outrageously talented sides – this much is true. However, the well-publicised Nelspruit pitch is not fit for a dirt track, let alone an international football competition. Parched, torn-up and resembling a network of mole burrows, to say the surface offered up by the 2010 World Cup venue is not conducive to passing football would be a gross understatement. There is no excuse to be had either – it is almost 18 months since the Confederation of African Football ratified a hosting swap between South Africa and Libya due to the latter’s on-going civil war. Therefore it does not take a medium to work out exactly how Wednesday’s semi-final between Burkina Faso and Ghana will play out – pass, bobble, miscontrol. Cross, bump, Row Z. Wouldn’t it be great for football if, just for once, the powers that be could move what is supposed to be a high-quality continental spectacle to a ground fit-for-purpose. Do not count on it.
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