Ivory Coast again failed to live up to their billing as African Cup of Nations favourites after a 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Nigeria at Royal Bafokeng Stadium.
In a cagey, tactical game Nigeria’s more positive outlook paid off as Emmanuel Emenike’s thunderbolt and a deflected Sunday Mba goal saw them through.
Cheick Tiote was on target for Ivory Coast, with Didier Drogba hugely disappointing in what will surely be his last chance at international silverware.
It was a higher standard of match than others at these finals, with Ivory Coast restoring their full starting XI after playing a shadow side against Algeria last time out. The Super Eagles, meanwhile, made two changes from the 2-0 win over Ethiopia, with Ogenyi Onazi replacing the suspended Fegor Ogude and Ideye Brown in for Ike Uche.
The Elephants were comfortable favourites according to the bookmakers, but it did not show in the first half as Nigeria bossed the game.
John Obi Mikel dictated the tempo, but Victor Moses was the main man, threatening with his livewire runs and pinpoint set-piece deliveries, also forcing a smart stop from Boubacar Barry with a long-range effort.
Brown also headed just over from a Moses free-kick, while Emenike was guilty of a poor miss when he hit over after Brown played him through.
Ivory Coast, meanwhile, were struggling to register a passing move, failing to get Yaya Toure on the ball and only threatening from set pieces - even then, Vincent Enyeama barely had to make a save.
So it was not altogether unsurprising when Nigeria took the lead a few minutes before the break, although Barry would have been disappointed that he failed to stop Emenike’s long-range drive after a quickly-taken free-kick from Moses.
The Ivorian keeper was not helped by his wall, which inexcusably broke in fear when the Spartak Moscow forward unleashed his thunderbolt, but it was straight at him and - while very quick - the movement was not so great as to justify the ball flying through his arms.
It was a good time to score, with Nigeria deservedly going into half-time ahead of their sluggish opponents.
The Elephants started the second half at a much higher tempo, although Salomon Kalou was perhaps a touch too enthusiastic as he was booked for going down easily in the penalty area.
Drogba appeared to get away with a similar overreaction a few minutes later, and it was his free-kick that found the head of Tiote, one of five Ivory Coast players unmarked at the far end of the six-yard box.
Tiote buried his header, with Nigeria’s players bunched around the near post, marking neither men nor zones. It was a terrible collective piece of defending, and reflective of a wider malaise the Super Eagles appeared to be suffering in the second half.
Nigeria did click back into gear after the hour mark, Brown going close with a header from a Moses corner but Barry doing well this time to hold on to the loose ball.
His opposite number also came to the rescue with a fine save from a ferocious Toure drive as the match opened up, with Ivory Coast introducing the direct Max Gradel for the hitherto ineffectual Kalou.
But it was Nigeria who got the breakthrough, and it was fortuitous at best.
Locally-based midfielder Mba, who was a surprise pick for the match after failing to impress against Ethiopia, had been quiet until – with 12 minutes remaining – he showed a neat turn of pace to create some space on the edge of the box. His shot would probably have been saved by Barry, but it took a wicked deflection off the onrushing Sol Bamba, flying off his back, over the keeper and in.
Suddenly the onus was on the Ivorians to take the game to Nigeria, which they did by bringing on 6’8” striker Lacina Traore.
He almost had an impact, denied a close-range finish by a last-gasp block from Mikel, but otherwise Ivory Coast struggled to break down Nigeria, who were playing five at the back in the latter stages.
There was a brief threat in injury time as a cluster of set pieces saw the Ivorians throw everything forward, but in truth Nigeria were comfortable as they closed out a famous win and a place in the last four.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ivory Coast