World Cup diary 2018 – Wednesday 27 June

Going to be honest and say that the first batch of games from yesterday which saw Group C conclude, passed me by. I’ve nothing against Denmark, France, Peru or Australia (well maybe Australia, as an Englishman it’s great to see the Aussies lose at any sport), but my focus was on the evening games in Group D involving Iceland, Croatia, Argentina and Nigeria. As a result I merely picked up the final scores in early evening that saw Denmark and France go through after a 0-0 stalemate, with the French topping the group and Australia finish bottom of the table after a 2-0 defeat to Peru in the other game.

So to the events in Group D and my match of choice involving Iceland and Croatia. I have a friend working for Iceland in their media team, so firmly nailed my colours to the mast of the Vikings hoping they would beat the Croatians and the result of the other game went their way. However, it was not to be despite the Iceland side giving it everything that they had. Chances came but in the end they looked a tired side and when you consider that in a good summer temperatures can reach 20-25 degrees Centigrade in Iceland, yet had to perform in temperatures of 30+, were the weather conditions a factor for their exit? Ultimately though they slumped to a 2-1 defeat which left Iceland with just a point from their three group fixtures.

With the game finished I switched channels to catch the last seconds of the Argentina and Nigeria game, where a cracking finish from Marcos Rojo just four minutes from time saved the two-times World Champions from exit of the 2018 tournament at the expense of Nigeria. For all the brilliance of Messi’s first-half goal and Rojo’s winner, the abiding image was of Maradona in the stands celebrating the second Argentinian strike by standing and displaying offensive hand gestures. I can’t share the opinion of those who consider him a ‘great’ since his image during his playing days will forever be tainted by the ‘Hand of God’ incident in 1986 and his banning from the 1994 World Cup for drug use. His antics since the conclusion of his playing days have reduced him to a laughing stock and embarrassment to his country.

Back to events on the pitch and those results from yesterday lead to the following last 16 ties:

June 30 France v Argentina          July 01   Croatia v Denmark

World Cup diary 2018 – Saturday 23 June

Friday’s games could all have been labelled as the ‘late, late show’ starting with the Group E encounter between Brazil and Costa Rica. VAR once again had its part to play twelve minutes from time, thankfully reversing the on-field decision of the referee to award Brazil a penalty after a theatrical collapse from Neymar. With ninety-minutes up, the score was 0-0 and a frustrated and petulant Brazilian team looked to be heading for a second successive draw at these Finals. However, in the first minute of stoppage time, Coutinho fired home after a knockdown in the box to save his teams blushes. Then just five minutes later, Neymar got a less than deserved second for the five-times World Cup winners. As with the Brazil squad in 2014, I just can’t warm to them and have fingers crossed that another beating a la Germany four years ago is waiting in the wings for Neymar and his chums.

Iceland were next up against Nigeria in Volgograd, and despite starting well, lost out to a brace from the Leicester City striker Ahmed Musa (49′ & 75′) who is currently on loan with CSKA Moscow. Despite the fantastic support of their fans, Iceland couldn’t handle Nigeria in the second-half and even a penalty ten minutes from the end, which would have given them a lifeline was blazed high and wide by Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson. It was a result that gave fresh hope to Argentina being able to now make the knock-outs.

The final game turned out to be controversial for a number of reason. Serbia were good value for their 1-0 lead at the break courtesy of on-loan Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic after five minutes. However, the Swiss were significantly better in the second-half and an absolute screamer from Granit Xhaka. Despite that Mitrovic continued to be a threat and should have had a penalty mid-way through the second period, as when he attempted to get his head on a cross, he was in what only be described as a two-man rugby tackle was hauled down. Now you don’t need VAR to see that it was a blatant penalty, so quite what German referee Felix Brych was thinking goodness only knows. The Serbs were then punished again as in the final minute Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri broke from the half-way line to score the winner. As with Xhaka, Shaqiri celebrated with a gesture that had political significance.

As the BBC explained: Serbia has hit out at a “provocative” double eagle celebration by two ethnic Albanian goalscorers in the World Cup…Their gesture is a nationalist symbol representing the double headed eagle on Albania’s national flag. Critics say it could inflame tensions among Serbian nationalists and ethnic Albanians… Xhaka and Shaqiri’s families are from Kosovo, where a Serbian crackdown on the Albanian population only ended with NATO military intervention in 1999…Xhaka’s father spent three-and-a-half years as a political prisoner in Yugoslavia for his support for Kosovan independence. Shaqiri was born in Kosovo and his family fled to Switzerland as refugees…Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority declared independence in 2008 but Serbia, its ally Russia and most ethnic Serbs inside Kosovo do not recognise it.”

Many say that sport and politic shouldn’t mix, but history is littered with examples of the when tournaments are used as propaganda or provocation by countries and their governments. And when the world is watching it is the biggest free advertisement going.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Tuesday 01 July 2014

Having played in goal over the years I tend to focus on the men between the sticks when I watch a game. To me it is the position with the biggest responsibility as any mistakes are generally fatal for a team.

Take the France v Nigeria game – which like so much of this World Cup – was an intriguing encounter. Both French keeper Lloris and Nigerian Enyeama were excellent as they kept the score at 0-0. Then with just eleven minutes remaining, the Nigerian No: 1 flapped badly at a cross and Pogba was able to head home. In that one instant, all his previous good work had been undone and cost his team the lead. As a consequence Nigeria had to take more risks as they searched for an equalizer, but then conceded a second in time added on.

In the Germany v Algeria game we saw German keeper Manuel Neuer play as a sweeper. Whilst it worked for the Germans last night in allowing them to play further up the pitch, it is a risky strategy. I certainly got nervy watching him charge out of his area, so goodness knows what the German fans felt like. Last night the strategy worked as Germany emerged winners against a lively Algerian team who were not disgraced at all in taking the game into extra-time.

The remaining last sixteen games are played out later today with Argentina v Switzerland and Belgium v USA. It would be all too easy to say it will be a stroll for Argentina and Belgium, but their fates are literally in the hands of Messers Benaglio, Romero, Courtois and Howard.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Monday 30 June 2014

It is some sort of conspiracy?

Fulham get relegated in the 2013/14 season and then in this World Cup, those with a connection to Craven Cottage suddenly turn into world-beaters. So you think I’m exaggerating? Okay, Clint Dempsey. Left us under a cloud and after a spell at Spurs returned last season (just to keep himself in trim pre-Brazil) and has been inspirational for USA as Captain America. You want another example? Bryan Ruiz. Captain of Costa Rica. His time by the Thames was as lightweight and fragile as filo pastry. In Brazil he scores the winner against Italy and was instrumental in the victory over Greece to see his team into the Quarter-Finals.

But hey, what am I complaining about, I could be a Mexican fan. With two minutes to go against Netherlands, they were on their way to a Quarter-Final place. Then Sneijder smashes home from a corner and then in time added-on Huntelaar slots home a penalty. Just think how good the Dutch could be if Sneijder spent less time arguing with the officials and Robben stayed on his feet…

Today’s drama will come from the following ‘Europe v Africa’ fixtures:

France v Nigeria

Only one friendly international fixture between these two teams which came in 2009 and was won by a goal by Nigeria’s Joseph Akpala. Nigeria showed against Argentina in their last group game that they are dangerous opponents. Are France the real-deal or was their qualifying group one of the weakest of the tournament? Super Eagles to fly through or the French cockerel to strut into the Quarter-Finals? I don’t care as long as it’s another barn-stormer of a game!

Germany v Algeria

Much has been made about this Quarter-Final as it brings back memories of the 1982 World Cup in Spain. The pre-unified West Germany lost 2-1 to Algeria in the group and going into the last game against Austria knew that a 1-0 or 2-0 win would be enough to see both of the European neighbours through. West Germany scored after ten minutes and that was about it as far as any meaningful action went as the game was reduced to a walking pace so ensuring a mutually beneficial result. The Algerians were outraged and exited the competition. As a result FIFA decided that the final group games in future tournaments would kick-off at the same time to try and lessen the chances of sides manufacturing results. Revenge is in the air for the Algerians, but I can’t see it happening tonight. And anyway the Germans are my sweepstake team!

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Sunday 22 June 2014

I genuinely enjoyed the Argentina v Iran game. To date I’ve been critical of some of the keepers in the tournament so far, but have nothing but praise for Romero of Argentina and Haghighi of Iran who between them kept the game at 0-0 with some excellent saves right up until time added-on. The goal that broke the deadlock on 91 minutes had to be something special and it was, as Messi curled in for an Argentinian winner. Iran deserved a point and whilst pleased to see Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah perform so well, I’d rather he had a quieter last game in the group stages so that he isn’t lured from the Cottage in the coming season.

A breathless evening of matches continued as Germany went up against Ghana. Despite an end-to-end opening forty five minutes, the first-half remained goal-less. Germany though went ahead early in the second period, when Gotze scored, with what looked like a header. Replays showed that it in fact bounced off the Germans nose and then his knee. The lead was brief though, as Ghana were level within three minutes, when Andre Ayew out jumped a static German defence to head home. Just after the hour mark things got even better for Ghana when Asamoah Gyan slotted home after Lahm’s slip allowed the Ghanian through on goal. The Germans though levelled it up at 2-2 when Miroslav Klose prodded in from a corner. The goal was significant in that it meant Klose became the joint leading score in World Cup Finals with Ronaldo (15 goals). Take note Wayne…

Nigeria v Bosnia-Hercegovina might not have stood out when the fixtures were released, but with a game that produced 20 attempts on goal from each side it proved to be worth a watch. Bosnia know they had to win to stay in the competition and Manchester City’s Dzeko was a constant threat to Nigeria. Just as in the Iran v Argentina game, the keepers were in good form. The game had two keys moments, the first was when Dzeko had a goal (incorrectly) ruled out for offside and the second was when in the build-up to when Nigeria scored, in which Emmanuel Emenike made contact with Bosnian defender Emir Spahic before crossing for Peter Odemwingie to fire home. Both were massive decisions, and yet both were accepted without protest by the players. I’m not convinced all the 32 teams in the Finals would have reacted that way – but refreshing to see from Nigeria and Bosnia. Premier League players take note…

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Tuesday 17 June 2014

Group G

Germany (3) 4 – 0 (0) Portugal

Another result at these Finals that nobody would have predicted.

It was all over by half-time as Germany were 3-0 ahead and Portugal down to 10 men. The first-half was all about Thomas Muller as he converted an early penalty and grabbed Germany’s third goal on the stroke of half-time. He was also involved in the incident on 37 minutes that saw Pepe sent-off for Portugal. The Real Madrid defender tangled with Muller and his hand made contact with the Germans face. However, the reaction by the German forward was ludicrous and Pepe, feeling Muller had overacted, then head-butted the German. The incident displayed once again the canker that is commonplace in the modern game in terms of the feigning of injury to get players sent-off – basically cheating.

It meant that the second-half was a pretty meaningless watch as Germany slowed the pace and Portugal struggled in the heat. The Germans created a number of chances, but only took one as villain of the peace Muller completed his hat-trick.

Note to FIFA, do something that would make a significant impact on the game and come up with a way to stop diving, feigning injury etc. instead of the daft regulations on the kits teams can and can’t wear.


Group F 

Iran (0) 0 – 0 (0) Nigeria

Well we had to have a draw sooner or later. In truth this was a pretty poor game, devoid of much quality. Credit to Iran.


Group G 

Ghana (0) 1 – 2 (1) USA

Oh Clint, why didn’t you show such spark at the Cottage this season? A skilful finish from Captain America gave the USA a first minute lead that looked like it was the winner as the game entered the last ten minutes. With just eight minutes to go, Ghana were level with a well worked goal. A lovely back-heel from Asamoah Gyan put in Ayew who finished cleanly. However, USA were to be denied and with four minutes to go, John Brooks headed home a late winner. Ghana will rue the way they conceded the corner for the goal and the fact that of the 21 shots they had on goal, only 3 were on target.


Tomorrow, in a slightly odd arrangement, the second round of group games begins before the first round has been completed.

 Group A

 Brazil v Mexico

The two unbeaten sides in Group A go head-to-head. Brazil will undoubtedly take three points, with a little help from the 12th man…


Group H 

Belgium v Algeria

Belgium qualified comfortably ahead of runners-up Croatia by 8 points, in a group that also contained Wales and Scotland. For Algeria it was a much tighter run thing as they emerged winners from their CAF play-off on away goals. The Algerians lost 3-2 to Burkina Faso, but a goal from ex-Rangers Madjid Bougherra put them through.

Nearly half the Belgium squad currently play in England and include, Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Nacer Chadli (all Spurs), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (both Manchester United), Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas (both Everton), Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and Simon Mignolet (Liverpool). They have a talented squad and maybe could be a bit of a ‘dark-horse’ in these Finals.

For Algeria, Essaid Belkalem plays at Watford, whilst Nabil Bentaleb is at Spurs and Riyad Mahrez will be playing in the Premier League next season with Leicester City.

Surely Belgium will have too much for Algeria?


Russia v South Korea

The Russians topped their group but lost more games than runners-up Portugal. What got the Russians through though was that they drew fewer games than the Portuguese. South Korea came through after finishing as runners-up in the AFC qualifiers but only on goal-difference.

Russia are a rarity at these Finals in that their squad is entirely drawn from their own domestic competition. The same can’t be said for the Koreans. Amongst those playing in Britain are Yun Suk-young, who spent the end of last season at QPR, Kim Bo-kyung at Cardiff City, Kim Bo-kyung who was at Watford on-loan at the end of last season, Ki Sung-yueng who spent last season on-loan at Sunderland from Swansea and Lee Chung-yong at Bolton Wanderers.

Russia to take it in a tight game.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Monday 16 June 2014

Group E

Switzerland (0) 2 – 1 (1) Ecuador

A dramatic end to start the day’s games.

Enner Valencia headed Ecuador in front after 22 minutes, but how Swiss keeper Benaglio thought he’d save it by diving backwards into the net I’ll never know. Ecuador held the lead until half-time, but within three minutes of the restart, substitute Mehmedi headed home from a corner with the Ecuador defence static. Both sides had chances to win the game, but in time added-on as Rodriguez got down the left and crossed low for Seferovic to clinically finish and grab a spectacular winner for the Swiss.


France (1) 3 – 0 (0) Honduras

I’m not going to be critical of Honduras and their tactics. It could have worked in that it might have unsettled the French and provided a way into the game for Honduras. The fact is that if you go with very physical tactics, you know you are continually treading a thin line and as Palacios showed if you ‘live by the sword, you die by the sword’.

France will be relieved to have got this one out of the way.


Group F

 Argentina (0) 2 – 0 (1) Bosnia-Herzegovina

 A stilted display from Argentina. Although they were never in danger of losing the game once Messi put them 2-0. Bosnia got one late on, but it was too little too late.

 * * * * * * * * *

Tonight the games are: 

Group F

 Iran v Nigeria

 Iran qualified after finishing first in the AFC Group ahead of South Korea. Apart from a 4-0 win over Lebanon, Iran scored only four more goals in their remaining seven games, whilst conceding only two games in their eight qualifiers. Nigeria are the current Africa Cup of Nations Champions and qualified for Brazil after a 4-1 aggregate win over Ethiopia.

I’m all for the underdog Iran, especially as Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah is amongst their ranks and in our relegation season was one of the better players. Whilst born in Tehran, his family moved to Germany when he was a child and his club football has seen him appear for Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg. He played for Germany from Under 17s right up to Under 21s, but opted to play for the country of his birth making his debut in 2012.

The Nigerian squad is a nomadic bunch, with the 23 man squad drawn from thirteen different countries, with the biggest contingent (seven) drawn from Britain – Joseph Yobo (Norwich City), Efe Ambrose (Celtic), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City), John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Victor Moses (Liverpool), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough) and Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United).

No betting irregularities here as Nigeria cruise to s 2-0 win.


Group G

Germany v Portugal

My office sweepstake team, Germany, make their first appearance in these Finals in one of the games of the opening rounds of fixtures against Portugal. The Germans topped their qualifying group finishing unbeaten and 8 points ahead of second-placed Sweden. Ironically it was the Swedes that Portugal beat in the Play-offs to secure their place in Brazil. Ronaldo scored the only goal in the first-leg in Lisbon and was also to prove the hero in the second-leg. He gave Portugal the lead in the game in Solna, but two goals from Ibrahimovic looked like taking the tie to extra-time. However, Ronaldo got two in two minutes to grab a hat-trick and seal a 4-2 win.

Only six of the German squad play outside the Bundesliga, including the Arsenal trio of Mertesacker, Ozil and Podolski, Chelsea’s Schurrle, and two in Italy, [Mustafi, who was briefly at Everton but now plays for Sampdoria, and Klose (Lazio)]. The Portuguese squad has few players with any experience of the English Premier League, the exceptions being Raul Meireles, who had spells at both Liverpool and Chelsea, Nani who is still at Old Trafford and of course Ronaldo. In addition, Helder Postiga was briefly at Spurs.

Does this game hold a shock score like Spain v Netherlands or are we about the see a cagey draw between two of the European heavyweights?


Ghana v USA

 The image of Suarez celebrating in the tunnel after his sending-off as Ghana missed a potentially match winning penalty, still burns unpleasantly in my memory from the 2010 World Cup. Four years later Ghana are back in the Finals again after a comfortable 7-3 aggregate win over Egypt in the CAF Qualifying stages. USA were top of their CONCACAF Qualifying Groups finishing four points clear of runners-up Costa Rica.

It’s funny how you can go off a player. USA captain Clint Dempsey was a hero at Fulham for his whole-hearted effort and of course THAT goal against Juventus in the UEFA Europa League. He then buggered off to Spurs citing that he needed to at a big club playing European football – and we know how that worked out. He then came back to Fulham for a loan spell this season (essentially to keep himself fit prior to the MLS season and World Cup), contributing nothing in the games he played and further tarnishing his reputation down in SW6.

The rest of the USA squad contains a sprinkling of English Premier League experience including keepers Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland) and Geoff Cameron (Stoke City). The only Ghanian currently playing in England is Albert Adomah, who plays for Middlesbrough, but was born in one of my old stomping grounds in South London, Lambeth.

I hoping for a fluent display from Ghana and a win, although the USA are a dogged bunch and could draw their African opponents into a stilted draw.

2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Monday 11 February 2013

2013 AFCON Final


Nigeria (1) 1 – 0 (0) Burkina Faso

National Stadium, Johannesburg


Looking at the players as the national anthems played, the Burkina Faso team looked more nervous than their West African neighbours Nigeria. Burkina Faso had Pitroipa in the team after his Semi-Final sending-off was overturned, whilst Alain Traoré was still not fit. For Nigeria, Victor Moses was passed fit, but Ikechukwu Uche replaced the injured Emmanuel Emenike. The pitch in Johannesburg whilst not as bad as that in Nelspruit, didn’t look as good as some of the other venues used in the tournament, and appeared to be still recovering from hosting a recent Red Hot Chili Peppers concert.

Nigeria started the more positively and had the first corner on six minutes, which was punched away continental style by Daouda Diakité in goal for Burkina Faso. Just a couple of minutes later, The Super Eagles were awarded a free-kick although it was a dive from Brown Ideye which had conned referee Haimoudi Djamel. The resultant free-kick found Efe Ambrose unmarked, but he headed wastefully off target. Nigeria were soon back on the attack and on nine minutes, Victor Moses won a corner for Nigeria. As the ball came in, Daouda Diakité left his line to gather but succeeded only in spilling it and was grateful to see Brown Ideye loft his attempt over the bar. Burkina Faso were looking nervous and hadn’t settled and it was not until the fifteen minute mark that they won their first corner after good work by Jonathan Pitroipa. However, the respite for The Stallions didn’t last long as on twenty minute, Moses, having swapped wings, crossed dangerously into the box which Daouda Diakité was grateful to gather at the second attempt. Gradually though Burkina Faso began to work their way into the game and had a good spell which produced two attempts on goal from Aristide Bancé. First on twenty four minutes, with his back to goal, he controlled a long ball on his chest, before swivelling and firing a shot over the Nigerian crossbar. Three minutes later Bancé had a better opportunity from a free-kick, but he dragged the effort badly wide. With half an hour gone, the game got a little scrappy with possession too easily given away by both sides and which saw the first booking of the Final when Florent Rouamba was cautioned for a foul on Moses on thirty three minutes. A second booking quickly followed on thirty eight minutes, when Ogenyi Onazi’s name went into the referee’s book. From the resulting free-kick, poor Nigerian marking allowed Bakary Koné a free header at the back post, but his effort was wide as he went for glory rather than heading the ball back into the danger area. On forty minutes the deadlock was broken; Brown Ideye won possession in midfield and flicked the ball onto Ikechukwu Uche who slipped it inside to Victor Moses. The Nigerian forward continued into the box and despite nearly losing possession fired off a shot which ricocheted out of the penalty box. Sunday Mba controlled the ball on his thigh as he went into the penalty area, flicked it over an advancing defender with his right foot before volleying home with his left, leaving Daouda Diakité rooted to the spot. An incredible piece of skill and a goal worthy of a Final. Burkina Faso though came straight back at Nigeria and Bancé again found himself in a good position on forty three minutes, but after good control, fired high and wide. Two added minutes were played and Nigeria created the last chance of the half, when Mba shot wastefully over the bar.

Nigeria went in at half-time ahead 1-0 and deserved their advantage. However, Burkina Faso knew that it was only a single goal deficit and had come from behind more than once in their 2013 AFCON journey.

Neither team made any changes for the start of the second-half and Nigeria were soon back in their stride, as Moses got down the right wing and flashed an attempt across the face of the Burkina Faso goal on forty eight minutes. The Chelsea player was causing problems on both flanks, and won Nigeria’s first corner of the second period on fifty two minutes. The first substitutions of the game came on fifty four minutes, when Ahmed Musa replaced Ikechukwu Uche. Whilst having put in an honest shift for Nigeria, the Villarreal striker had been unable to fill fully the gap left by the injured Spartak Moscow striker Emmanuel Emenike. On fifty four minutes Burkina Faso won their first corner of the second period, but it nearly proved costly as Nigeria broke quickly on the counter-attack and were grateful that Victor Moses couldn’t capitalise as his effort on goal was blocked. The next bit of significant action on fifty seven minutes fell to the referee as he booked Nigerian Kenneth Omeruo for a foul on Florent Rouamba. The Nigerians clearly thought that The Stallions player had made a meal of the challenge and as a result of his protests John Obi Mikel was also booked. When play did resume Bancé flicked a header goal-wards, but straight at Vincent Enyeama. Just after the hour mark there was a flurry of substitutions as both coaches looked to change the course of the game. On sixty five minutes Wilfried Sanou replaced the struggling Florent Rouamba, whilst a minute later, Nigeria brought on Juwon Oshaniwa for Elderson Echiejile. The substitutions did little for the rhythm of the game as it entered a scrappy phase midway through the second-half. After being on the field for five minutes The Super Eagles’ Juwon Oshaniwa was booked for a foul on Charles Kaboré. Despite it being in a good position wide out on the right, Burkina Faso wasted it with a poor delivery. With less than twenty minutes remaining Nigeria were looking to defend their lead and had to hold firm as The Stallions won three consecutive corners. They came to nothing and indeed Nigeria broke away on a quick counter. Moses played in Musa, but the forward tripped on the poor surface and the chance was gone. On seventy three minutes, Burkina Faso had their best opportunity of the game, when Wilfried Sanou had a shot destined for the far corner brilliantly tipped round the post by Vincent Enyeama. However, no corner was awarded and The Stallions best chance had gone. As the clock continued to tick down the tension mounted, although real chances were few and far between. With ten minutes remaining goal-scorer Mba had a long range effort on goal but it was high and wide. Then shortly after Burkina Faso had a free-kick in a promising position, but as with their all their dead-ball strikes in the Final it was another effort that was badly wasted, this time by Keba Paul Koulibaly. That was pretty much his last contribution as on eighty four minutes he was replaced by Moumouni Dagano. With just five minutes remaining Nigeria had two chances in a minute to seal victory, first Victor Moses was unable to take the chance presented after a defensive mistake and then from an Ahmed Musa cross, Brown Ideye was unable to apply the finishing touch. With eighty nine minutes on the clock, the goal-scoring hero Mba gave way for Joseph Yobo as Nigeria looked to close out the game and Burkina Faso had one last throw of the dice as Djakaridja Koné was replaced by Abdou Razack Traoré. Four minutes of added-time was played and Burkina Faso had got a late leveller against Nigeria in the earlier Group fixture, so hoped for a repeat. They had a half-chance two minutes into time added-on, as Brown Ideye was booked for handball and Burkina Faso were presented with a free-kick in a useful position. However, substitute Moumouni Dagano could only strike it fruitlessly into the crowd. The Stallions pumped one last long ball into the box as the four minutes were up; Vincent Enyeama confidently collected it and the referee blew for time. Nigeria were Champions of Africa for the third time.

The right team had won on the night and with a glorious goal that was worthy of winning a Final. Neither side had hit the heights of some of their earlier performances. Nigeria did enough to win the game and looked like they had more in reserve. Coach Stephen Keshi had caused a few raised eye-brows by going with some home-based players over ‘bigger’ European-based names in his squad selection, but this triumph handsomely answered those critics. For Burkina Faso to have even reached the Final was an incredible achievement, but at the last hurdle perhaps didn’t believe that they could win it. They looked nervous prior to kick-off and never showed the intensity and belief that was displayed for instance in the Ghana game. Perhaps the exertions of having gone to Extra-time in both the Quarter and Semi-Final had taken its toll? To have a chance their ‘big’ players had to spark for The Stallions, but on the night the highly rated Jonathan Pitroipa was on the whole anonymous. Not a classic Final, but one that will be remembered for a stunning strike from Warri Wolves’ Sunday Mba and a crucial save from Vincent Enyeama.

Congratulations The Super Eagles – 2013 AFCON Champions.

2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Saturday 09 February 2013

2013 AFCON Final


Nigeria v Burkina Faso

National Stadium, Johannesburg


For both these teams, the qualification games they played in order to progress to the 2013 AFCON Finals must seem a lifetime away. Nigeria started their journey back in February 2012, when they played out a 0-0 with Rwanda in Kigali in the First-Leg of their First Round game. In June 2012 in the Second-Leg, goals from Ikechukwu Uche and Ahmed Musa saw The Super Eagles through 2-0 on aggregate. In September 2012, Nigeria travelled to Liberia, where the First-Leg game finished 2-2. The Second-Leg was a pretty comfortbale affair with Nigeria winning 6-1 with goals from Efe Ambrose, Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses (2), John Obi Mikel and Ikechukwu Uche. This 8-3 aggregate win saw Nigeria through to the Finals in South Africa.

Burkina Faso entered qualification at the Second Round stage, as having been in the 2012 AFCON Finals, they were given a bye to this point. In September 2012, The Stallions travelled to the Central African Republic (CAR). The First-Leg fixture was lost 1-0 and it looked even worse when in the Second-Leg, CAR took a 2-0 aggregate advantage after seven minutes. Goals from Alain Traoré and Moumouni Dagano before half-time brought the aggregate score level at 2-2, but CAR still held the advantage knowing that this would be enough to see them go through on away-goals. With ninety six minutes on the clock, Alain Traoré scored a second to send The Stallions through 3-2 on aggregate. The reality was that Burkina Faso were seconds from not even qualifying for the Finals.

At the Finals Nigeria were drawn in Group C with Burkina Faso, Zambia and Ethiopia. Burkina Faso topped the group on goal difference from Nigeria, with both teams finishing on five points. In the Quarter-Finals, Nigeria saw off favourites Ivory Coast 2-1 and secured their place in the Final after a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Mali. Burkina Faso have done it the hard way with an extra-time 1-0 win over Togo and then a dramatic 3-2 penalty shoot-out win against Ghana.

Nigeria are the bookies favourites going into the game and they have gained confidence as the tournament has progressed. Their forwards, Ahmed Musa, Ideye Aide Brown, Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses have all looked impressive with midfielder John Obi Mikel pulling the strings for The Super Eagles. However, the AFCON cares nothing for the favourites tag and as Zambia showed in 2012, anything is possible. Burkina Faso too have quality though in Jonathan Pitroipa, Aristide Bancé and Alain Traoré. The head says Nigeria, the heart says Burkina Faso.

2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Friday 08 February 2013

Third/Fourth Place Play-Off

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

Ghana v Mali

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

It’s the fixture that no team really wants to have to take part in; the game for the two losing Semi-Finalists. At least however the teams won’t have to endure playing the game on the truly dreadful surface at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit or have it officiated by Slim Jedidi.

Ghana finished Third in 2008 and Fourth in 1996 & 2012. Mali finished Third in 2012 and Fourth in 1994, 2002 & 2004. Nigeria are the Third Place ‘champions’ having claimed that title on no less than seven occasions.

Mali and Ghana have already faced each other in the competition in a Group B fixture, which Ghana won with a first-half Wakaso Mubarak penalty in the same stadium as they play again tomorrow. Whether the respective line-ups will be the same remains to be seen, as it may be used as an occasion to give a game to those who have yet to start or had little playing time in the tournament. The winners though will be a historical footnote to the 2013 AFCON competition. The last five Third/Fourth Place Play-Off games were as follows:

2012 AFCON – South Africa: Mali 2 – 0 Ghana

2010 AFCON – Angola: Nigeria 1 – 0 Algeria

2008 AFCON – Ghana: Ghana 4 – 2 Ivory Coast

2006 AFCON – Egypt: Nigeria 1 – 0 Senegal

2004 AFCON – Tunisia: Nigeria 2 – 1 Mali

Good luck to the two teams; here’s hoping that playing for pride produces a reasonable game.