- Title: NIGERIA: Analyst sees potential for more suprises at AFCON semis.
- Date: 5th February 2013
- Summary: LAGOS, NIGERIA (FEBRUARY 05, 2013) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF BILLBOARD READING: "CHEER, NIGERIA!" NIGERIAN FLAG SPORTS JOURNALIST, NWANI EMEKA WALKING OUT OF A CAFETERIA (SOUNDBITE) (English) NWANI EMEKA, SPORTS JOURNALIST, SAYING: "I would say from the group stages, we didn't really do things right but in the quarter final game, we did almost everything right, we played well, Cote d'Ivoire did not play very well. We took some of our chances, we did not take theirs and of course we played with that spirit of yes oh, you are bigger than us, you have better players, we are the underdogs, let's show you that at least, we are also good players and they played with.... I don't know where they got that spirit from, I mean our players, they were playing as if they were possessed. I was watching that game and I was surprised too that I'm not sure these players are from Nigeria."
- Embargoed: 20th February 2013 12:00
- Location: Nigeria
- Country: Nigeria
- Topics: General,Sports
- Reuters ID: LVADUGXCDQ2MZJXAFJQK9W27PRR6
- Story Text: For the first time in Nations Cup history, all four semi-finalists are from the west African region and while Ghana and Nigeria have the pedigree, Mali appeared to have the most depth while Burkina Faso proved the surprise package.
The Nigerian team had a shaky start in the group stage with two draws against Burkina Faso and Zambia and a 2-0 win against the "Walia Antelopes" of Ethiopia which saw them qualify for the quarter finals.
But the Super Eagles have surprised fans and analysts back home - kicking out favourites, Ivory Coast and raising hopes that Nigeria could win Africa's most coveted soccer cup for the first time since 1994.
Emeka Nwani, a sports journalist based in Lagos says Nigeria are in their best form in a long time.
"I would say from the group stages, we didn't really do things right but in the quarter final game, we did almost everything right, we played well, Cote d'Ivoire did not play very well. We took some of our chances, we did not take theirs and of course we played with that spirit of yes oh, you are bigger than us, you have better players, we are the underdogs, let's show you that at least, we are also good players and they played with.... I don't know where they got that spirit from, I mean our players, they were playing as if they were possessed. I was watching that game and I was surprised too that I'm not sure these players are from Nigeria," he said.
Nigeria face Mali in the first semi-final in Durban on Wednesday (February 6), but Nwani says Mali will not be easy to beat.
Mali were surprise bronze medalists at the 2012 finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. However, a military coup last March caused major disruptions to the team.
Mali coach, Sabri Lamouchi said last week their objective will be to provide a joyful distraction from the conflict back home, where French troops and government forces are advancing against Islamist insurgents in the north of the West African state.
Nwani says the leadership of captain Seydou Keita on and off the pitch has injected passion into the team.
"It's going to be a very, very tough game, the Malians defend with 11 players and attack with 11 players and that is one thing too that gave us an edge over Cote d'Ivoire, there were spaces in the mid-field but with this Malian team, you would think that field is not up to standard because they attack with the 11 eleven players and defend with the 11 players, you know, so it's also a great side, I respect the Malians, I respect Seydou Keita and Sissoko but we have just to do things right, they are charged up; Keita has said if the Malian football federation don't have money, he'll pay so they don't have a problem of where their allowances will come from," Nwani said.
Burkina Faso will play Ghana in what Nwani says could be the toughest game yet. The Burkinabes know the pitch at the Mbombela stadium well and having come this far, have the potential to provide yet another upset at the games.
"It's going to be a tougher game than Nigeria - Mali. Burkina Faso, in fact, they are playing that semi-final game in their homeground in Nelspruit, the stadium is bad, the pitch is bad but it's like they've mastered it, they did something that most countries did not really reckon with two weeks before the competition, they were in that city and they were training in that pitch so they can play very well on that pitch and that is where they are playing Ghana. If you watch the Burkina Faso, from the first game against Nigeria, they have been improving, strong side, highly technical, very good attack," he said.
Four of the 16 teams are left. With defending champions Zambia, hosts South Africa and favourites Ivory Coast gone, analysts say the outcome is near unpredictable this year.
The losers in Wednesday's semi-finals play for the bronze medal in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, while the winners face off in a final clash in Johannesburg on Sunday night.
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