In a tournament marred with substandard pitches and poor performances from some of the continent’s biggest names, the Super Eagles of Nigeria finally gave their famously fervent fans reason to be cheerful with an excellent showing in South Africa. With former Nigerian defender Stephen Keshi coming under fire in the run-up to the tournament after dropping some of the country’s established stars, the patriotic manager showed that the future is bright for a team that many were calling a lost cause after almost two decades without a major trophy. One of Keshi’s protégés, locally-based Sunday Mba, fittingly scored the final’s only goal. Triumphing over a side from Burkina Faso making their first appearance in the final of this tournament, the strength and passion of the Nigerians was a delight to watch in the midst of their rivals’ horrendous capitulation.
Zambia will perhaps be the most disappointed in the aftermath of this year’s competition after failing to escape a group containing newcomers Ethiopia and the surprise package of Burkina Faso. The intimidating strikeforce of last year’s winners proved to be shooting blanks in 2013, with returning ‘Best Player’ Christopher Katongo failing to justify the hype surrounding this year’s African campaign. They joined the entirety of North Africa in lamenting missed opportunities, as teams from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia were forced to make the long journey home after falling at the very first hurdle. In a new low for a region whose flag-bearers are seven-time champions Egypt, a lack of quality was evident throughout nine dismal games in which the teams shared a sorry seven goals between them.
The Black Stars looked to be shining after Ghana’s impressive showing in the group stages, with free-flowing attacking football returning to a young team looking to build on last year’s fourth-place finish. In the end, however, fourth place will be little consolation for a team that should have put the young upstarts of Burkina Faso away long before their eventual elimination on penalties. The hot form of Mali was quickly doused in the semi-finals at the hand of Nigerian powerhouses Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike, the latter a hulking brute of a forward who has struck fear into the hearts of defences across Africa in the past two weeks. The Malians struck back, however, in an impressive third-place playoff match which saw them fly past the Ghanians to nab the bronze.
It would seem that the bubble has finally burst for the Ivorian ‘Golden Generation’, for whom it may finally be time to admit defeat and move along. The gifted Didier Zokora is entering the twilight of his career and as we witness the steady decline of phenomenal striker Didier Drogba it may be time for a Plan B. The Elephants’ disheartening defeat to Nigeria proved that they no longer have the legs to keep up with younger, quicker side, with Moses in particular looking to prove to the doubters that there are new Kings of Africa. In defeating all comers and claiming a deserved trophy in the midst of doubt and insecurity, they’ve certainly made a bold claim to that title.