Nigeria 1-0 Burkina Faso: Nigeria triumph
Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations following a typically tight, tense final.
Stephen Keshi was able to select Victor Moses (who had been a doubt) but Emmanuel Emenike was injured, and replaced by Ikechukwu Uche.
Paul Put, who has tinkered with his formations and line-ups throughout the tournament, was able to name an unchanged side after Jonathan Pitroipa’s suspension was overturned.
This was a disappointing game, both in tactical and entertainment terms. Nigeria played better football, but there were very few shots on target from either side.
The line-ups were as we expected – Burkina Faso kept their 4-2-3-1 shape, while Nigeria’s system was arguably more 4-3-3, but pretty much similar. Ideye Brown moved to the right to accommodate Uche upfront, but he frequently came inside to act as a second striker. With Moses coming inside from the opposite side, this often meant a lack of width when Nigeria attacked in the first half.
There was minimal pressing up the pitch from either side in open play, although Nigeria kept players forward and tried to force Burkina Faso to play long from the goalkeeper.
In a battle of two sturdy, physical midfield triangles, there was a lack of creativity from both sides. Jon Obi Mikel was pressed by Djakaridja Koné at the start of the game, which prevented him playing many ambitious passes, while Charles Kaboré was closed down well by Ogenyi Onazi, and failed to influence the game in the final third. Aristide Bancé dropped deep into positions between the lines, but was marshalled effectively by the two Nigerian centre-backs.
In the wide positions, the wingers stayed deeper than in the semi-finals, with Burkina Faso’s two wide players particularly conservative. Ideye was never going to offer much creativity, but Moses often drifted over to the right and found space to create chances – he was by far the most promising player.
There were few developments from full-backs attacking, either. Efe Ambrose got forward nicely in the opening stages, but then became concerned by Pitroipa breaking in behind, so held his position more. But it was simply difficult to find many examples of positive attacking play from either side – Nigeria threatened through set-pieces, and their goal came out of nothing. A brilliant piece of improvisation by Mba, the winner also stemmed from a mistake by Paul Kéba Koulibaly, who was similarly poor in Burkina Faso’s semi-final.
Suddenly, Burkina Faso upped the tempo and attacked with more belief at 1-0 down – Pitroipa came into the centre more frequently.
An early Keshi substitution helped Nigeria significantly. Uche was poor, and Ahmed Musa was introduced to play his second key substitute role in a row – he and Moses stayed wide and offered a consistent counter-attacking threat, with Moses always looking more dangerous when he moved over to the right.
Burkina Faso pressed reasonably well in midfield, but Nigeria restricted the space between the defence and the midfield, while their offside trap frequently caught out Prejuce Nakoulma when he sprinted in behind.
Put made three attack-minded changes. On 65 minutes, winger Wilfred Sanou replaced Florent Roumaba – he went to the right, Nakoulma swapped sides, Pitropa came into the middle to become the number ten, and Kaboré dropped deep. On 84 minutes, striker Beli-Moumoni Dagano replaced centre-back Koulibaly, with Djakarida Koné dropping into defence. In the final couple of minutes, Koné himself was sacrificed with Abdou Razak Traore, an attacking midfielder, on in his place.
Three attackers on for three defensive-minded players – you can’t question Put’s level of ambition, although he probably waited too long to introduce his second striker. The problem was more the lack of fluidity and neat passing from Burkina Faso, and none of the formation changes solved this problem.
Arguably, the key substitution in terms of Burkina Faso’s potential comeback was the change Keshi was forced to make at left-back. Elderson Echiejilé’s injury meant Juwon Oshaniwa had to come on, and he immediately looked vulnerable to players dribbling at him. Sanou and Nakoulma both ran at him dangerously, getting Oshaniwa in the book within five minutes, and Burkina Faso created some promising situations down the right – Oshaniwa got too tight to players, leaving too much space in behind, and also lagged behind the rest of the defence when Nigeria tried to play offside.
But despite Burkina Faso’s possession dominance, Nigeria were the more threatening side on the counter-attack. Moses and Musa, the two wingers, both made wrong decisions at critical moments to deny Nigeria a second, and the constant chopping and changing in the Burkina Faso backline contributed to some sloppy defending.
Joseph Yobo was introduced as an auxiliary centre-back to deal with Burkina Faso’s ever-increasing number of attackers, but Nigeria saw the game out without too much panic at the back.
International finals are rarely exciting matches, and the Africa Cup of Nations seems to produce particularly poor games. 0-0, 1-0, 1-0, 0-0 and now 1-0 – today’s scoreline was a fair reflection of the lack of attacking quality shown by both sides.
Neither midfield outwitted the other, the wingers were quiet, and no full-backs influenced the game significantly in the final third. Moses was the game’s brightest player and varied his position intelligently, but this was basically a good defensive performance from Nigeria in an unexciting match.
Nigeria 1-0 Burkina Faso: Nigeria triumph