DURBAN, South Africa (AFP) – Nigeria hope to extend an unbeaten run over fellow west Africans Mali when they clash on Wednesday for the chance to play in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations final.
Several months ago, President Goodluck Jonathan charged the Super Eagles to reach the Nations Cup final as he wishes to watch them play in Johannesburg to kick off the country’s celebrations of 150 years as a nation.
After a laboured group-phase campaign, the Super Eagles defied the odds last Sunday to beat title favourites Ivory Coast 2-1 and set up an early-evening showdown against the Malian Eagles at Moses Mabhida Stadium in this port city.
Mali also proved popular expectations wrong to edge past hosts South Africa after a penalty shootout.
The countries have clashed at full international level six times with four of those matches at the Nations Cup. Nigeria won three and the others have been drawn.
The last meeting of the Super Eagles and the Eagles was at the 2008 African tournament in Ghana and finished goalless.
Nigeria striker Emmanuel Emenike insists they have put behind them the shock 2-1 quarter-finals triumph over Ivory Coast and are focused on beating Mali because the target is to be crowned African champions a third time.
“We want to win the trophy and won’t get carried away because we beat the Ivory Coast as we still have two more games to win before we can be crowned champions,” said the Spartak Moscow striker, who has netted three times.
Young Nigerian defender Kenneth Omeruo said he does not expect an easy game against Mali, who have been in Durban for more than a week and will be better rested as they played their quarter-final a day before the Super Eagles.
“It will be a tough game, but we hope to come out victorious. We are focused on it and I believe we will zoom into the final,” Omeruo said.
Striker Brown Ideye added: “If we can play the way we did against Ivory Coast, Mali can’t stop us. It will be a different game and we won’t underrate them.”
Former Barcelona star Seydou Keita remains the Mali talisman, as he was last year when they finished third in Gabon behind Zambia and Ivory Coast.
The 33-year-old midfielder has scored twice to keep Mali on track for a first Nations Cup triumph after finishing runners-up to Congo Brazzaville 41 years ago in Yaounde.
Mali coach Patrice Carteron has consistently maintained he wishes to improve on what compatriot Alain Giresse achieved with the team last year and this means at least reaching the final.
“The target for us has been to improve on what the team achieved last year and so far we are on course to doing so,” said the former Lyon ‘hard man’.
Nigeria vs Mali Match-up
Key match-ups for Africa Cup of Nations semi-final between Nigeria and Mali on Wednesday:
Adama Coulibaly (MLI) v Emmanuel Emenike (NGR)
Expect a battle of attrition between two power-playing players — Coulibaly against the all-action Emenike, who is one of three leading scorers in the competition with three goals.
Adama Tamboura (MLI) v Victor Moses (NGR)
Denmark-based left-back Tamboura was included in the 2012 Cup of Nations tournament team and it will be interesting to see how he fares against tricky and quick Chelsea winger Moses.
Seydou Keita (MLI) v John Obi Mikel (NGR)
Mikel held his own against a star-studded Ivory Coast midfield that included Yaya Toure and Cheik Tiote and will hope to impose himself against ex-Barcelona star Keita.