Nigeria’s triumph at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in the perfect example of how a team can improve through a tournament with the confidence that wins bring.
Written off by the media as also-rans, by their own fans as no-hopers and even by their coach Stephen Keshi as a work in progress, Nigeria’s victory in this tournament is arguably as surprising as Zambia’s in the last.
But just like Chipolopolo 12 months ago, nobody can deny that the Super Eagles deserve their place on the winners’ podium.
They might not have the sentimental value of Mali, the fan favourite tag of Burkina Faso or the players of Cote d’Ivoire, but their victory came through hard work, excellent tactical acumen and in the end fine execution.
The way the team started the tournament it looked as though they would struggle to make it out of the pool stages. Scratchy draws against the Burkinabe and Zambia, games in which they gave up late leads, were followed by a tense 2-0 win over Ethiopia to seal their passage. They left it until the final 10 minutes of that game to get on the scoresheet too.
That set up a quarter-final meeting with Cote d’Ivoire, who had romped through the pool stages and looked to be peaking for the Last Eight.
But an excellent game plan devised by Keshi that saw them frustrate their opponents won the day and the momentum gained from that victory made their semi-final against Mali a brilliant show of attacking football.
They were always going to be favourites for the decider against first-time finalists Burkina Faso, and it would likely come down to whether either of the teams froze on the day.
In the end it was the Burkinabe who never quite clicked into gear, showing none of thecarefree attitude that had seen them into the Soccer City showpiece. Perhaps the occasion finally got to them, the enormity of what they could achieve taking over the mindset of just playing their natural game.
Nigeria capitalized on that and ended a fairytale tournament with a win that probably should have been achieved by a greater margin. Certainly they never looked like losing the match.
Keshi had said that he was building a side for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but five years ahead of that they are now African champions.
Some of the players, such as final goal-scorer Sunday Mba, had barely been heard of outside of Nigeria before this tournament, but surely now the Enugu Rangers midfielder will have plenty of European interest.
That is what a successful Nations Cup can do for you, reigniting interest in the domestic game and laying a platform of success for many years to come.
Nigerian football has been in turmoil since the 2010 Nations Cup, with the threat of a FIFA ban over government intervention some years back.
But now there can be no denying it is on the up once more, and there is plenty for Super Eagles fans to look forward to in the future.