Nigeria, Burkina Faso to meet in African Cup final

Nigeria closed in on its first title in nearly two decades by

easily advancing to the final of the African Cup of Nations on

Wednesday, setting up a matchup with a surprising Burkina Faso team

looking to lift the trophy for the first time.

Nigeria cruised to a 4-1 victory over Mali in Durban to reach

the final for the first time in more than a decade, while Burkina

Faso needed extra time and a penalty shootout to get past favorite

Ghana in Nelspruit.

Burkina Faso won 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in

regulation, making it to the final for the first time.

”Surprises are always there,” Burkina Faso coach Paul Put

said. ”Maybe this time is our time.”

Seeking its third title, Nigeria is considered the favorite

heading into Sunday’s final in Johannesburg, where it will be

hoping to return to its glory days of the 1990s. The team led by

Chelsea duo John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses last won the African

Cup in 1994.

The Super Eagles looked impressive in its victory against Mali,

finding no difficulties to get past the team led by former

Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita at Moses Mabhida Stadium. The

remarkable performance came just three days after it had outplayed

Ivory Coast’s star-filled squad in the quarterfinals.

The two-time champions scored three first-half goals to quickly

put the game out of reach for Mali, which was hoping to lift the

trophy to bring joy to fans enduring political instability and

conflicts back home.

”Tonight we played against a team that was better than us,”

Keita said. ”It is tough for us to accept it, especially because

we had an entire country rooting for us and hoping that we would

win this game. All we can do now is to try and analyze this game

and try and get the third place in the competition, and bring the

joy we failed to give to our people.”

Mali finished third in last year’s competition, after losing 1-0

to Ivory Coast in the semifinals.

The Super Eagles scored through Elderson Echiejile in the 25th

minute, Brown Ideye in the 30th, Emmanuel Emenike in the 44th and

substitute Ahmed Musa in the 60th. Mali’s lone goal was scored by

Cheick Diarra in the 75th.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi, who captained the team when it won

the title in 1994, may be without Moses in the final after he left

Wednesday’s match with an injury. Exams on Thursday will determine

whether the striker will be fit for the match.

”We’ll know about that tomorrow (Thursday), the doctors

probably will need to do some scans, then we’ll know better,”

Keshi said. ”Hopefully it’s not bad, because we need everybody in

the team. We’ll just cross our fingers.”

Burkina Faso will certainly be missing its own leading striker,

Jonathan Pitroipa, who was sent off against Ghana after being given

a second yellow card for diving just three minutes from the end of

extra time.

Burkina Faso will be enjoying its greatest moment in football on

Sunday after surviving a thrilling match against Ghana in

Nelspruit.

Three Ghanaians missed their spot kicks in the shootout, with

Burkina Faso goalkeeper Daouda Diakite pulling off the decisive

save from Emmanuel Agyemang Badu to send the underdogs through to

the final at Soccer City.

Ghana went ahead in regulation with a penalty converted by

Wakaso Mubarak in the 13th minute, but Aristide Bance netted an

equalizer in the 60th to keep Burkina Faso alive in first semifinal

appearance in 15 years.

”When we arrived in this competition, the only person who

believed in us was our coach,” Burkina Faso Captain Charles Kabore

said.

It was another disappointing elimination for Ghana, which made

the semifinals in the last four tournaments. The Black Stars

haven’t won the title since 1982.

”We cannot find any excuses,” team captain Asamoah Gyan said.

”I think the better side won.”

AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray in Nelspruit, South Africa,

contributed to this report.