SOUTH Africa 2013 is the first African Nations Cup for Kenneth Omeruo, Ambrose Efe, Ogenyi Onazi, Emmanuel Emenike, Brown Ideye, Victor Moses and homeboys, Godfrey Oboabona and Sunday Mba. But at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Sunday, it was difficult to differentiate between the ‘rookies’ and the ‘veterans.’
With Valerenga FC of Norway midfielder, Fengor Ogude, suspended for yellow cards offences, fear was that the Didier Drogba-led Elephants would have easy passage in the game. But the Eagles had their plans.
Before the ‘Super Sunday’ showdown, the Nigerian team captain, Joseph Yobo, made it clear to the young players that the only way to play against ‘big’ names was to be bold and ruthless. After the encounter, Yobo, who came in late for Chelsea playboy, Victor Moses, said: “We knew the game was going to be tough, because Cote d’Ivoire has some of the best and experienced players in African continent. But we equally know that ‘big’ names have nothing to do with success inside the field of play.
“Again, millions of people back home had written off our chances of surviving against Cote d’Ivoire. That also gave us additional motivation to push on. I am happy we got the ticket but to be sincere, it was not an easy battle.”
According to Yobo, Eagles’ victory on Sunday over the Elephants was made possible by the self-confidence the players took into the game. “When you look at a team parading the likes of Drogba, Yaya Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, Solomon Kalou, Kone Arouna, Didier Zokora and Bony Wilfred, there is the tendency for any young player to be scared.
“That is why I said that our young players deserve praise for the self confidence they displayed throughout the game.”
True to Yobo’s theory, some of the superstars paraded by Cote d’Ivoire in the game including Arsenal attacker, Yao Koussi Gervais, popularly known as Gervinho, was forced to ‘abandon’ their traditional style of play. Gervinho did not have his best game as he lacked the final product when in a position to threaten the Eagles.
Also, a boastful Emmanuel Eboue, who before the game said that the team would eat the Eagles like super fried chicken and fufu, could not provide his usual attacking threat due to pressure mounted on him by the rampaging Eagles.
In particular, Eboue found it difficult to cope with Spartak FC goal digger, Emmanuel Emenike, on the several occasions they came face to face in the game.
Again, the Elephants’ ‘maestro’, Didier Zokora, was a shadow of himself, as he failed to stamp his authority on proceedings, just as attacker, Salomon Armand Kalou was made to look ordinary upfront. His only real contribution was the yellow card he received for diving.
Perhaps, the biggest flop on the part of the Elephants was the ‘General’ Didier Tebily Yves Drogba. The captain failed to deliver in what appears to be his last outing in the Nations Cup for the Ivory Coast, forcing majority of the fans to suspect his level of fitness for the match.
As some of the fans put it, Drogba’s movement from the English Premiership to China may have contributed to his below performance in the Nations Cup.
Though the Elephants lost, some fans praised the individual contribution of Yaya Toure in the game. The Manchester City midfield powerhouse, who is the current African Footballer of Year title holder, was able to distinguish himself by bossing the Ivorians midfield.
For the Eagles, it was praises all the way as the players lived up the fans expectation. Apart from the superlative performance by Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, the fans were full of commendation for the back four marshaled, which had Sunshine Stars of Akure defender, Godfrey Oboabona, SC Braga of Portugal defender, Elderson Echiejile, ADO Den Haag of Netherlands’ Kenneth Omeruo and Celtic FC of Scotland strongman, Ambrose Efe.
Chelsea midfielder, Obi John Mikel, SS Lazio of Italy’s Ogenyi Onazi, Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses, Dynamo Kyiv of Ukraine star, Brown Ideye and Warri Wolves ‘big heart’ Sunday Mba were marvelous throughout the encounter.
At the 2006 edition of the Nations Cup hosted in Egypt, Enyeama single-handedly gave Nigeria the semi-final ticket in a match dominated by Tunisia in the city of Port Said. On Sunday, he stood up to the challenge posed by Drogba and was not at fault for Tiote’s eqauliser.
Among some of his numerous saves was one that would have been a goal for the Ivoirians, a double save from the boots of Yaya Toure and the rebounds from Check Tiote in the 66th minute.
On his part, Efe was solid throughout the game at the back, just as Omeruo, who initially struggled with the physicality of the Ivorians, was able to stamp his foot as the game gathered pace.