Ivory Coast's Gervinho, Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Tiote Cheik, from left to right, react to Nigeria's second goal during their African Cup of Nations quarterfinals match with Nigeria Sunday, Feb. 3 2013 at the Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa. Nigeria defeated Ivory Coast 2-1 to advance to the semifinals. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Cote D’Ivoire lost in the quarterfinals of the African Cup of Nations this year.
Best celebration – Efe Ambrose
The Nigeria full-back had had an excellent game neutralising Gervinho and deserved his moment of triumph, somersaulting down the running track in front of the massed ranks of Nigeria fans after the Super Eagles’ unexpected victory over Cote d’Ivoire. The pre-tournament favorites, by contrast, lay slumped on the pitch, disappointment having overwhelmed them yet again: this was the Ivorians fifth successive tournament as either favorite or second favorite and yet this great generation remains trophyless.
Cruelest tweet – Mido on Boubacar Barry
When Emmanuel Emenike’s free-kick flashed by Boubacar Barry shortly before half-time in Nigeria’s win over Mali, the former Egypt striker Mido tweeted to say that the goalkeeper had already won three Cups of Nations for the Pharaohs. It was an unfair jibe and yet it held a kernel of truth, for the truth is that Barry is not up to the standard of many of his teammates, and yet has been the first choice since 2006. He was clearly to blame here: Emmenike’s shot was well hit but it was only around six inches to Barry’s left – he either reacted slowly or misread the flight of the ball; either way it was a soft goal and it set Nigeria on in its way.
Most frustrating aspect – Timewasting
Timewasting is a common enough story at the Cup of Nations but that doesn’t mean it should simply be accepted. Again and again players go down in the final minutes, clutching faces and clutching legs. Referees claim they add the time on, but they never add on enough and even if they did the disruption to the flow of the game is infuriating and prevents a team establishing a rhythm. Both Morocco and South Africa were guilty in the final group game, Nigeria was to an extent in its quarter-final and so too was Burkina Faso in its win over Togo.
Best setting – Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
Rustenburg is not a particularly exciting town, and nor is the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, located in Phokeng, about 10 miles out of town, particularly convenient. But as the wind got up, the clouds closed in and the day became sultry, the surrounding hills provided a spectacular backdrop for the most eagerly awaited of the quarter-finals, that between Cote d’Ivore and Nigeria. Lightning flashed, curtains of rain streaked the horizon and duststorms shrouded the platinum works away to the north.
Best leader – Seydou Keita, Mali
It was Keita who scored the equalizer for Mali in its quarter-final against South Africa. Of course it was: how could it have been anybody else. The 32 year old is the best player in the Mali side by a margin but he has become something far more profound. Patrice Carteron, the Mali coach, has described him as “almost a spiritual leader” for the other players and, as the conflict in Mali goes on, he has emerged as an eloquent speaker. Draped in a Mali flag after Mali’s penalty shoot-out success over the hosts, he once again spoke of football’s role in raising morale back home. “This victory means a lot to everyone in Mali,” he said. “This is an emotional moment for me and this team.”
Most emotional moment – Singing of the South African anthem
The South African anthem is moving at the best of times, its blend of the old Afrikaner anthem Die Stem van Suid-Afrika and the hymn Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika an emblem of the country’s efforts to reconcile its disparate components. Sung with gusto by a mixed race crowd, most of them bedecked in yellow Bafana Bafana shirts, it sends a shiver down the spine – all the more so because the Cup of Nations doesn’t engage in the infuriating practice of having a diva sing the anthem. It’s far better to hear 50,000 voices rising in patriotic unison than to endure some technically impressive warbling that drowns out all else.
Best goalkeeper - Fatuwa Dauda, Ghana
For long periods of the game, Cape Verde was the better side against Ghana and at times in the second half it was only Dauda, who plays for Ashanti Gold in the Ghanaian Premier League, who prevented Cape Verde not merely getting back into the game but possibly even embarrassing Ghana. Amid a series of fine saves, the two that stood out were his diving efforts to deny Platini and Djaniny in the closing minutes before Wakaso sealed the game, running clear to roll into an empty net as Vozinha, the Cape Verde keeper, went up for a corner.
Most controversial decision - Ghana penalty vs Cape Verde
As the Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan charged through, Cape Verde’s defender Carlitos knocked him off the ball with what is usually described as an old-fashioned shoulder-barge. There was fury among those who favored the underdog – and those who believe soccer should have moved on from the robust game practiced in England in the fifties – but under the modern interpretation of the rules, it was easy to understand why the referee from Mauritius, Rajinjapasad Seechurn, gave a penalty. Mubarak Wakaso converted and Ghana had a fortuitous lead. “We cannot complain about the referee’s decisions…we did not complain in our first three matches. But while I respect his country, is it right that a referee from Mauritius should be in charge of such a big match as an African Nations Cup quarter-final?” asked the Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes. “Although we were the better team they got the goals so it was a fair result. And really, who would want to see a semi-final between Togo or Burkina Faso and Cape Verde? There would be 200 people there. The tournament needs big teams like Ghana at the end.