Nigeria had the perfect tactical plan to see off the threat of highly-fancied Cote d’Ivoire in their African Nations Cup quarter-final on Sunday night – allow the reigning African Footballer of the Year, Yaya Toure, little space.
John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onanzi turned in a master class of how to stymie the influence of a player who has been the driving thrust of the Ivorians’ solid showing in the group phase. Without Toure to drive them forward, the Ivorians found they could not control the game and were increasingly frustrated as the match wore on.
Although they did put a brief spell of superiority together – which resulted in the equalising goal – in the end, a master plan from Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi condemned the Ivorians to the sidelines yet again, their ambitions unfulfilled.
Keshi hailed the fighting spirit of his side, who scored a 78th minute winner from Sunday Mba. “This is the character that I know when I was playing for Nigeria. We went out and fought and we left everything on the pitch,” said the former Super Eagles captain.
“It was never going to be an easy game as we tried to stop players like Yaya Toure. We took our time to study the way they played and we had our plan together, but we also have to say that fate was with us.”
Keshi had taken a hammering before the finals over his choice of six home-based players in the squad, and Mba’s goal gave him a sense of smug satisfaction. But given the opportunity to pontificate on about his selection, he chose to be diplomatic.
“I’m happy about the team’s success, not about individuals. I just wanted to win the game,” Keshi said. “But if Mba was here now I’d have to go and kiss him. It’s good to see that the home-based players, if given the opportunity, can do a lot better than many people think.”