Nigeria qualified for their first Africa Cup of Nations final in 13 years with a 4-1 destruction of Mali in the semifinal in Durban on Wednesday evening.
In what was the most impressive and comprehensive performance of the tournament so far, Stephen Keshi’s Super Eagles crushed Mali thanks to goals from Elderson Echiejile, Brown Ideye, Emmanuel Emenike and Ahmed Musa.
Fantamady Diarra pulled one back for Patrice Carteron’s team in the second half, but it proved little more than a consolation goal as Nigeria moved into their first final since losing on home soil to Cameroon in 2000.
Nigeria settled the quicker of the two teams, though it was Mali who threatened an early goal when Molla Wague’s header from a corner kick flashed just wide of the target in the 12th minute, while Momo Sissoko shot just over the top from long range less than 60 seconds later.
On 15 minutes John Obi Mikel opened up Mali’s defence with a raking long ball that allowed Emmanuel Emenike to sprint in behind and get a low shot on target, but goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa made a good save with his feet. Seven minutes later Mikel sent a powerful volley just wide.
The Super Eagles opened the scoring on 25 minutes thanks to some great play down the right flank by Victor Moses. The Chelsea attacker twisted and turned his way past Adama Tamboura before providing a low cross that Elderson Echiejile turned into the net with a diving header.
Just five minutes later it was 2-0, with Nigeria again penetrating down the right flank. This time it was Emenike who provided a low cross that was turned into the net by Brown Ideye from close range, though the ball appeared to also make contact with defender Mahamadou Ndiaye.
Just before half time, Nigeria received a big slice of luck to help rack up their third goal. A free kick was teed up for Emenike to strike – his effort was directed low and hard at the wall, but ricocheted off the legs of Sissoko, completely wrong-footing the goalkeeper and finding its way into the back of the net.
Mali created a chance to pull a goal back early in the second half, but captain Seydou Keita, of all people, fluffed the attempt and put the ball wide of the near post with only goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to beat.
On the hour mark Nigeria surged into a 4-0 lead to put beyond any doubt the final result of the match. Mikel played a perfectly-timed pass for substitute Ahmed Musa to spring Mali’s offside trap, before the youngster coolly slotted the ball between Samassa’s legs.
The other Samassa on the pitch, striker Mahamadou Samassa, had a great chance to pull one back for the Eagles in the 72nd minute, but he was denied by a fine save from Enyeama.
However, three minutes later Cheick Diabate set-up fellow substitute Fantamady Diarra to at least put Mali on the score sheet at 4-1.