All Nigerian coaches come under the most intense pressure; not all respond to it with such contempt as Keshi. He captained the Super Eagles in 1994, the last time they won the title, and he appears to be exactly what the country needed. He is tough, funny, single-minded and admirably capable of shutting out distractions. This is, emphatically, his squad, and the players – six of them from the Nigerian league – are his players, devoted and committed. Even if Nigeria loses the final, Keshi will have lost on his terms and will not go home, as so many before him have, regretting allowing himself to have been influenced by others.
Best midfield performance – John Obi Mikel (Nigeria)
It’s bizarre now to think that there was a time when Stephen Keshi left Mikel out of his Nigeria side, apparently for not being committed enough. Perhaps that was the jolt Mikel needed to start taking playing for the Super Eagles seriously; he has been superb in this tournament. No midfielder has completed as many passes as him, while he has broken up play at the back of midfield. He dominated Yaya Toure against Cote d’Ivoire in Sunday’s quarterfinal and he helped stifle Seydou Keita against Mali in the semi.
Biggest worry: Emmanuel Emenike (Nigeria)
Nigeria’s victory over Mali in the quarter-final was comprehensive but it may have come at some cost. Victor Moses, ebullient on the wing, hobbled off after an hour with an ankle injury, while Emmanuel Emenike, the forward whose free-kicks have proved such a devastating weapon, tweaked a groin muscle attempting a typically powerful shot in the closing minutes. The 20-year-old Ahmed Musa, such a force at the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia in 2011, showed his quality after coming off the bench, so Nigeria can perhaps afford to lose one of Moses or Emenike. If both are out, though, it is severely blunted.
Victor Moses (Nigeria)
Nigeria's Victor Moses takes a long shot on goal during a pre-match training session at Moses Mabhida Stadium. The Chelsea winger is an injury doubt for the final.
Most heartbreaking sight – Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso)
Received wisdom has it that there are no great African wingers. Received wisdom has a point, but there are certain exceptions – notably Victor Moses and Pitroipa. Pitroipa has been magnificent in this competition, quick and imaginative, blessed with a gentle first touch and a burst of pace. Burkina Faso’s progress to the final has been rooted on a solid defense but it is the Rennes winger who has given them the creativity to counter-attack effectively. His side reached the final, and yet he left the pitch in tears after the semi-final, distraught after receiving a red card that will see him suspended for the final. The dismissal came for a second yellow card awarded for simulation, even though he was clearly chopped down by John Boye.
Best penalty – Aristide Bance (Burkina Faso)
Bance is a player who seems always to play with a tremendous sense of fury. Off the pitch he seems pleasant enough; on it he rages – at himself, at teammates, at the referee. There are times when you wonder if he might be rather more effective in front of goal if he could just calm down but against Ghana he led the line with great tenacity and – having missed a couple of chances – took the equalizer well. He then had a volley brilliantly turned off the line. Yet in the shootout he seemed calmer than anyone, waiting for Fatuwa Dauda to commit and dinking a floating Panenka down the middle. The key to that style of penalty, Antonin Panenka, the Czechoslovak player who invented it, has always maintained is striking the ball softly so the keeper is fully down when the ball goes past him. Kicks don’t come much softer than Bance’s.
Worst penalty – Isaac Vorsah (Ghana)
The history of penalty shoot-outs is littered with awful, nervous attempts, but few have been quite as bad as Vorsah’s. Tall, broad and with a shock of peroxide blond hair – the Burkina Faso forward Aristide Bance is apparently irritated he has “copied” him – he is the image of the no-nonsense centerback, the sort of player you expect to smash a penalty with all the power in his right leg. Maybe that’s what he tried to do, but he dragged the ball laughably, awfully wide, the equivalent of a duck hook in golf. It set the tone for Ghana’s defeat in the shootout.
Worst referee – Jdidi Slim (Tunisia)
The good news for Daniel Bennett: the South African who made a real mess of Tunisia’s draw against Togo, is that he is no longer guilty of the worst refereeing display of the tournament – and at least he spread his shockers between the two teams. Although Jdidi should have sent off the Burkina Faso defender Keba Paul Koulibaly for kicking out at Asmaoah Gyan, pretty much all his other mistakes went in favor of Ghana. He denied Burkina two clear penalties, gave Ghana an extremely soft one, ruled out a Burkina goal for little apparent reason and then showed Jonathan Pitroipa, who had already been booked, a yellow card for supposed simulation -- after he had been whacked across the knees by John Boye.
Greatest collapse in reputation – Adama Tamboure (Mali)
The Mali fullback had been one of the Eagles’ outstanding players in the tournament, his forward surges a significant part of their attacking threat. It was his cross from which Mahamadou Samassa scored the vital equalizer against DR Congo in the group stage and he played a key part in the fightback against South Africa in the quarter-final. Against top-class attacking wingers, though, his defensive deficiencies were exposed. Victor Moses beat him once, turned back and then beat him again before crossing for Elderson Echiejile to head the opener and Tamboure was nowhere to be seen as Emmanuel Emenike squared for Brown Ideye to bundle in the second.