Both Nigeria's Super Eagles and Côte d’Ivoire's Elephants were among the pre-tournament favourites for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, but for one of them Sunday will see their final game at the competition. Nigerian winger Victor Moses, the hero of Nigeria's Group C finale, spoke to FIFA.com about what is sure to be a thrilling clash between the two giants of African football.
In their final Group C game against Ethiopia, the Super Eagles were staring elimination in the face, as they were involved in a long-distance battle over qualification with defending champions Zambia and Burkina Faso. With the clock counting down, the game between Nigeria and Ethiopia in Rustenburg was still goalless and there was the distinct possibility that the disciplinary record would have to decide whether Zambia or the Super Eagles remained in the competition.
It was then that Moses kept his nerve to make the difference. When Nigeria were awarded a penalty in the 79th minute the young Chelsea winger took the ball, placed it on the spot and made no mistake. He repeated this cool feat in injury time to send the Super Eagles through and Zambia home. Although neither side can be said to have hit top gear, the Ivorians are the favourites against their west African rivals in Sunday's quarter-final, but it is something that does not worry Moses.
“Everyone is talking about Ivory Coast," the Chelsea winger said. "But the same thing happened last year, and you saw what happened in the end [they were beaten on penalties in the final by outsiders Zambia]. We are just concentrating on ourselves at the moment. We just want to do our best. It’s going to be a hard game for us, but it’s also going to be a hard game for them."
Moses, who was born in the Nigerian capital of Lagos, but moved to England as a child and played internationally for England at youth level, will be facing several former Chelsea players in Rustenburg, including Salomon Kalou, whose place he is said to have taken at the Blues.
“Kalou’s a good player. I’ve watched him a lot. He scores goals, he’s quick. But we’ll look after him. The most important thing for the moment is to get together as a team, work hard together," he said. Interestingly, another Ivorian in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations squad, Arouna Kone, was signed by Moses' former club Wigan when they realised that they would no longer be able to hold onto the Nigerian at the beginning of the season. Moses admitted that he had not seen Côte d’Ivoire’s final group match, a 2-2 draw with Algeria. "I did not watch the game, as we were doing something else. But I know the full squad. We’re just going to do our best, and we will try to win.”
The 22-year-old, who was top scorer for England at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in South Korea in 2007, is on two goals in South Africa, like his team-mate Emmanuel Emenike. However, he said that there was no rivalry between the two forwards. "We just want to play as a team and make sure we score goals. Anyone can score, it doesn’t matter who - even the goalkeeper. If we get a chance, we just have to take it." Moses said he also benefits from playing with his Chelsea team-mate John Obi Mikel. "He is very important to the team. He has got a lot of experience, which he is bringing to the squad. All of the players have got respect for him."
Yobo impressed by young players
Another player with plenty of experience, captain Joseph Yobo, who has seen limited playing time at the finals, has said that he has confidence in the many youngsters that coach Stephen Keshi has called into the side. “Being young does not mean being inexperienced because those young players have already gained a lot of experience in their clubs. They played the qualifiers with the national team, and for some of them in the Champions League with their clubs. This has given them a lot of self-confidence. You have to give credit to the young lads - they have played well so far."
Yobo said that he saw a role for himself at this tournament as much off the field, as on it. "I am playing my sixth Africa Cup of Nations. I played two World Cups. I am closer to the end than to the beginning of my career, but I intend to help those young players get the best they can in this tournament."
With players of the calibre of Victor Moses playing well and prepared to take on growing responsibilities in attack, it is certainly not a foregone conclusion that the Super Eagles' will be returning home after their quarter-final clash. Indeed, Nigeria's expectant fans are hoping that their team can win their third African title and represent the continent at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil later this year.