Nigeria tops Ivory Coast 2-1 to reach semifinals
RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) -Nigeria defeated tournament favorite Ivory Coast 2-1 to reach the semifinals of the African Cup of Nations on Sunday, keeping Didier Drogba and his teammates from lifting the trophy.
Sunday Mba scored the winner with a shot from outside the area in the 78th minute, helping Nigeria advance to the last four for the sixth time in eight tournaments.
Emmanuel Emenike opened the scoring for Nigeria with a long-range shot that was misplayed by Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry in the 43rd minute, and Cheik Tiote equalized in the 50th with a header from a free kick cross taken by Drogba, who might have had his last chance to win a trophy with his national team.
Nigeria will now play Mali, which eliminated host South Africa on penalties on Saturday in Durban. Burkina Faso and Emmanuel Adebayor's Togo will play the last quarterfinal later Sunday in Nelspruit, with the winner facing Ghana.
The last time Nigeria made it to the final was in 2000, when it lost to Cameroon. The Super Eagles are trying to win their first title since 1994, when they had a team that dominated African football for most of the decade.
Ivory Coast was hoping to rebound from a disappointing loss to Zambia in last year's final, when it also was heavily favored to win the title but left empty handed. The Elephants haven't been able to break through with the African Cup trophy since 1992.
The match in Rustenburg was one of the most anticipated of the quarterfinals, with some of the tournament's top names facing each other. Ivory Coast had Drogba, Arsenal's Gervinho and Manchester City's Yaya Toure, while Nigeria was led by Chelsea duo Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel.
Nigeria had most of the chances in the first half but Ivory Coast improved in the second and threatened more often, especially with Drogba and Arsenal forward Gervinho up front.
But it was Mba who came up big near the end. He made a run through the Ivory Coast defense and cleared a couple of markers before getting near the area to fire a right-footed shot that deflected on a defender and went over Barry.
Emenike put Nigeria on the board after a free kick from about 30 meters (yards) away. Mikel just rolled the ball and the Spartak Moscow striker fired a powerful shot through the wall, fooling Barry as he tried to punch the ball away in the middle of the goal. The shot didn't appear to deflect off anybody before getting past just to the side of Barry.
Ivory Coast pressed forward after the goal and Tiote equalized with a header from near the far post following a well-placed free kick by Drogba, who earned the set piece when he was fouled just outside the area near the sideline.
Drogba had the last chance of the match with a header that sailed over the crossbar in stoppage time.
It was another disappointing tournament for the 34-year-old striker at the African Cup. He was benched after Ivory Coast's opener following a lackluster performance and didn't really meet expectations after returning to the team despite scoring a goal in the 2-2 draw against Algeria in the last group match.
The Nigerians didn't qualify for last year's African Cup but brought a revamped squad to South Africa under the command of 1994 team captain Stephen Keshi. It struggled in the group stage, tough, and barely advanced to the second round thanks to two late penalty kick goals converted by Moses in the final group match against Ethiopia.
Despite the high expectations entering the tournament, Ivory Coast also didn't impress in the group stage. They beat Togo with a last-minute winner after a lackluster performance in the opener, then improved to defeat Tunisia 3-0 and struggled again against already eliminated Algeria, needing two late goals to earn a 2-2 draw in the final Group D match.
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