By John Egbokham
AtÂ last, Nigeriaâ€™s below-par showing at the 27thÂ Africa Cup of Nation was yesterday attracted its commensurate reward as Ghanaâ€™s youngsters inflicted a 1-0 defeat on the Eagles, who from the start of the tourney, had showed signs of a failed side.
Coach Milo Rajevac, in the weeks leading to this tournament, had opted to parade the heroes of the World Championship, with a view to giving them the exposure they need to play their way into his World Cup squad and how well these boys have developed into a cohesive unit who for once, placed Nigeria in their proper place of a wobbly and fumbling side.
His Nigerian counterpart, Shuaibu Amodu opted to field experienced and aged players, who despite enjoying the better possession did not make it count as the likes of Obafemi Martins, who was preferred to Yakubu Aiyegbeni to lead the attack, frittered away the chances that came his way.
Nigeria had an indifferent day in front of goal, unable to make hay while the sun shone while Chinedu Obasi, Osaze and Mikel were found wanting when it mattered most.
It was an amazing effort by the Ghanaians. A perfect game plan again by the Black Stars. They soaked up everything Nigeria threw at them and Asamoah Gyan broke the deadlock once more.
The West African rivals were clashing for the third consecutive Cup of Nations with Nigeria having beaten the Black Stars in the 2006 group stage and Ghana ending the Super Eagles hopes in the quarter finals two years ago.
And while Nigeria started the match as slight favourites, the Black Stars were the first to settle into a rhythm and duly took advantage of their opponentâ€™s slow start to the match.
Obinna Nwaneri, starting in place of the suspended Onyekachi Apam, was at fault for the goal as Asamoah Gyan leaped in front of him at the near post to head home Kwadwo Asamoahâ€™s whipped_in corner.
Rennes striker Gyan was a doubt for the game, limping off after scoring the only goal in Ghanaâ€™s quarter final defeat of hosts Angola, but the 24_year old looked lively in the first half, testing Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama again just after his goal.
But as the first half progressed, the Super Eagles began to take charge of the game.
Former Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins wasted Nigeriaâ€™s best chance, shooting too close to Ghana keeper Richard Kingson after finding himself in space in the penalty area after 27 minutes.
Peter Odemwingie headed Uwa EchiÃ©jilÃ©â€™s cross over four minutes later and spurned another chance in first half injury time as he blazed wide from a tight angle as Martins waited unmarked across the area.
Ghana continued on the back foot in the second half but try as they might, the Super Eagles couldnâ€™t break down a determined Black Star defence.
Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, who had another quiet game in the centre for Nigeria, created the Super Eaglesâ€™ best chance of the second half, looping a pass through for Martins to run on to.
But Kingson was off his line in a flash and after spreading himself to block the strikerâ€™s effort, he prevented Chinedu Obasiâ€™s acrobatic rebound.
In his hurried bid to save face, Coach Amodu ran in the chances, bringing in Nsofor, Yakubu and Chidi Odiah, to replace Ayila, Odemwingie, who had an indifferent day in the office and Mohammed Yusuf, who cropped an injury and to be stretchered off, respectively.
Like their forerunners, the substitutes found the Ghanaian defence a bridge too solid to break through, all too reminiscent of that valiant showing against Angola.
In retrospect, Nigeria only have themselves to blame for this exit but in hindsight, they for once proved critics right that they had no business getting this far. They were simply pathetic, proving again that Amodu has indeed ran out of ideas in his battle to save his job, which on the strength of this performance, is far from being safe.
The Super Eagles pressed desperately in the last ten minutes but never looked like finding a way past Kingson and will have to settle for a third place playoff again.