RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) — Nigeria defeated tournament favourite Ivory Coast 2-1 to reach the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations yesterday, handing Didier Drogba and his teammates another disappointing elimination at the continental competition.
Yesterday Mba scored the winner with a shot from outside the area in the 78th minute, helping Nigeria advance to the last four for the sixth time in eight tournaments.
“Before we came in this afternoon nobody gave us a chance,” Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said. “But my boys showed character.”
Emmanuel Emenike opened the scoring for Nigeria with a long-range shot that was misplayed by Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry in the 43rd minute, and Cheik Tiote equalised in the 50th with a header from a free-kick cross taken by Drogba, who might have had his last chance to win a trophy with his national team.
Nigeria will now play Mali, who eliminated host South Africa on penalties on Saturday in Durban.
Burkina Faso qualified for the semifinals by pipping Togo 1-0 after extra time. The Stallions face four-time champions Ghana here on Wednesday
The last time Nigeria made it to the final was in 2000, when they lost to Cameroon. The Super Eagles are trying to win their first title since 1994, when they had a team that dominated African football for most of the decade. Nigeria’s first title was in 1980.
Ivory Coast were hoping to rebound from a disappointing loss to Zambia in last year’s final, when they also were heavily favoured to win the title but left empty-handed. The Elephants haven’t been able to win the African Cup since 1992 and this talented but aging generation of players appears to be running out of time to finally break through.
The match in Rustenburg was one of the most anticipated of the quarterfinals , with some of the tournament’s top names facing each other. Ivory Coast had Drogba, Arsenal’s Gervinho and Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, while Nigeria were led by Chelsea duo Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel.
Nigeria had most of the chances in the first half but Ivory Coast improved in the second and threatened more often, especially with Drogba and Arsenal forward Gervinho up front.
But it was Mba who came up big near the end. He made a run through the Ivory Coast defence and cleared a couple of markers before getting near the area to fire a right-footed shot that deflected on a defender and went over Barry.
Emenike put Nigeria on the board after a free-kick from about 30 metres away. Mikel just rolled the ball and the Spartak Moscow striker fired a powerful shot through the wall, fooling Barry as he tried to punch the ball away in the middle of the goal. The shot didn’t appear to deflect off anybody before getting past just to the side of Barry.
Ivory Coast pressed forward after the goal and Tiote equalised with a header from near the far post following a wellplaced free kick by Drogba, who earned the set piece when he was fouled just outside the area near the sideline.