Nigeria ended a 19-year Africa Cup of Nations title drought on Sunday with a 1-0 final win over Burkina Faso at Soccer City thanks to a late first-half and the only goal of the match from central midfielder, Sunday Mba.
It was a result that took winning coach Stephen Keshi into the record books as he equaled late Egyptian Mahmoud al-Gohary’s feat of winning gold medals as a player and a coach.
Among the rewards for the Super Eagles was a $1.5 million first prize and a place at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, where they will face world and European champions Spain, Tahiti and Uruguay.
Nigeria conquered Africa for the first time in 1980, thrashing Algeria 3-0 in Lagos with three first-half goals, and the second title arrived 14 years later as they fought back to beat Zambia 2-1 in Tunis.
Winning the third title in Soweto was particularly sweet as they were robbed of the chance to defend the title there in 1996 as a political cold war with South Africa led to Nigeria withdrawing.
Nigeria were forced into a late pre-match change when striker and four-goal leading scorer Emmanuel Emenike was ruled out by an injury sustained in the semifinal rout of Mali and experienced Ikechukwu Uche took his place.
Burkina Faso were able to retain the team that started against Ghana in a semifinal settled by a shootout after the red card given to midfielder Jonathan Pitroipa was rescinded when the referee admitted he erred.
It was only the third time the countries have met in the 56-year competition, with Nigeria beating then-Upper Volta 4-2 in 1978 and Burkina Faso snatching a stoppage-time 1-1 draw in a Nelspruit group game last month.
The Mba goal gave the Super Eagles a 1-0 halftime lead after 45 minutes that followed a predictable script with Nigeria dominating possession and scoring chances while the Burkinabe relied largely on counter-attacks.
Mba, one of two home-based stars in the starting lineup, struck on 40 minutes with a penalty-box flick over Mohammad Koffi and a left-foot shot into the far corner past helpless goalkeeper Daouda Diakite.
It was an opportunist goal by Mba and his second of the tournament, having struck a superb match-winner in the 2-1 quarterfinal defeat of pre-tournament title favorites Ivory Coast.
A combination of Nigerian midfield creativity and a couple of defensive howlers by the Burkinabe offered several half chances to the Super Eagles that were squandered.
The early second-half exchanges mirrored the first with Nigeria pressing for a second goal that would leave opponents fielding a lone striker in Aristide Bance with a mountain to scale.
Diakiate did well to push away a hard, low Ideye cross-cum-shot and Moses should have done better in a two-on-one situation that favored the Eagles only to timidly surrender possession with the Burkinabe goal in sight.
Uche was making no impact on the final and gave way to Ahmad Musa nine minutes after halftime.
As the game moved into the final quarter there were chances at both ends with unmarked Musa slipping as he was poised to shoot inside the box and a Sanou drive at the other end finishing just wide of the far post.