Nigeria eyes title after sending Ivory Coast home
RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) -Nigeria was left as the team to beat at the African Cup of Nations after reaching the semifinals by stunning Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast on Sunday.
Just like Drogba, Emmanuel Adebayor also won't have a chance to win the tournament for the first time as Togo's remarkable run ended with a 1-0 loss to Burkina Faso in extra time in Nelspruit.
Two-time champion Nigeria looked impressive in its 2-1 win over the tournament favorites in Rustenburg, moving into good position to win its first title in nearly two decades.
"I know the mentality of my players and I knew they could do it,'' Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said.
The Super Eagles will try to advance to the final for the first time since 2000 when they face Mali on Wednesday in Durban. Burkina Faso reached the semifinals for the first time since 1998, and will play Ghana the same day in Nelspruit.
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 opened the scoring in the 43rd minute after Ivory Coast veteran goalkeeper Boubacar Barry misplayed a long-range shot by Emmanuel Emenike, but Cheik Tiote equalized in the 50th with a header from a free kick cross taken by Drogba before Sunday Mba netted the winner with a shot from outside the area in the 78th.
Seeking its first title since 1994, Nigeria has advanced to the semifinals for the sixth time in eight tournaments. It last made the final in 2000, when it lost to Cameroon on penalties.
"I'm just glad that my team is progressing every game,'' said Keshi, the team captain in 1994. "The team showed great discipline. I just hope that we can keep going that way.''
Ivory Coast, which won its lone title in 1992, was looking to return to the final and rebound from a disappointing runner-up finish to Zambia in last year's tournament.
The elimination also means that the 34-year-old Drogba and some of his teammates likely had their last chance to win the trophy with his national team. The new Galatasaray striker will be almost 37 by the time the next African Cup arrives in two years.
"We had only one goal coming into the tournament and that was to win the African Cup of Nations,'' Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi said through a translator. "For some of us, it might have been a last chance.''
In Nelspruit, Jonathan Pitroipa scored midway through extra time as Burkina Faso beat Adebayor's Togo 1-0.
Pitroipa was unmarked from a corner in the 105th minute to head past an out-of-position Kossi Agassa and in off the crossbar, taking Burkina through to the last four for just the second time - and first since they hosted the tournament in 1998.
"It was a dream that came true,'' Burkina Faso's Belgian coach Paul Put said. "What can you say? We are very happy. We didn't expect this result. Everybody in Burkina Faso was already satisfied (with the quarters) but I told the players we are here ... and we have the opportunity to play the semifinal.''
Adebayor was not able to create much for Togo, which was playing in the quarterfinals for the first time. The best chance for the Tottenham striker came in the second half when he brushed past two defenders to carve an opening out for himself but had his shot blocked by the Burkina Faso goalkeeper.
Adebayor had threatened not to play in South Africa because of a dispute with the Togolese federation over security and bonuses.
Host South Africa was eliminated by Mali on penalties on Saturday, while Ghana got past newcomer Cape Verde.
The South Africans were looking on the bright side despite their disappointing elimination, with officials praising the team's participation at the home tournament and looking forward to a better future.
"Like everyone around the country, I am hugely disappointed that we did not proceed to the last four,'' South Africa coach Gordon Igesund said. "But I can tell you now I am very proud of my team. They matched one of the best teams on the continent and even took them to penalties.''
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