Offshore Drilling, Africa Cup of Nations: Nigeria 1, Burkina Faso 0

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A single moment of brilliance separated the teams on the scoreboard, but the gap in quality was greater. After the match’s initial settling in period, we knew Nigeria were better. Their superior quality on the ball gave them more promise in attack. As the first half unfolded, the favorites started enjoying large advantages in possession.

Those advantages eventually allowed midfielder Sunday Mba — a 24-year-old midfielder who’s never played outside of native country — to break through, scoring the 40th minute goal that downed Burkina Faso and gave the Super Eagles their third African title, 1-0.

Three Mba touches won the Cup for Nigeria. Trying to settle after poor first touch, Mba (right) poked the ball into over an onrushing Mohamed Koffi and into the penalty area with his right foot before getting a shot off with his left. The ball didn’t hit the ground. Volleying a shot toward the right post before Bakary Koné closed him down, the Nigeria-based midfielder gave the Super Eagles the only goal they’d need. Mba put his name in the history books as the man who reclaimed the title.

That title had been in others’ hands for 19 years. For all the acclaim the Super Eagles have received as a result of being a near-perpetual World Cup qualifier, Nigeria had failed to live up to their reputation at home. With this win, the team turns back the clock, winning their first major title since Jay Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh were patrolling the midfield.

Another name on that 1994 team was defender Stephen Keshi, the man who coached Nigeria on Sunday. While Mba may have been the man of the moment in Johannesburg, Keshi was the story of the tournament. Much maligned at home for declining to call in veteran stars Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Peter Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins, and Taye Taiwo, Keshi put his coaching livelihood on the line by wagering a house cleaning would restore some of the Nigerians’ spirit – a pride that had lacking during a 2010 World Cup disappointment and failure to qualify for the 2012 Cup of Nations.

Electing to play a younger, more balanced, and more cohesive team, Keshi saw his gamble vindicated when the Super Eagles ousted tournament favorites Cote d’Ivoire last Sunday. With their 4-1 win over Mali on Wednesday, Keshi’s team got their chance to make history. From the moment Mba’s shot crossed Burkina Faso’s goal line, there was little doubt the Nigerians would have their breakthrough.

source: Getty ImagesMan of the Match: Sunday Mba’s individual effort takes this award, but take that moment away and Burkina Fasi’s Jonathan Pitroipa (right) would have won the award, just deserts for a player who was clearly this tournament’s best. On Sunday, he was the Stallions’ one bright spot in attack, his skill on the ball creating a number of near-opportunities for the underdogs. Whether playing through the middle or back in his customary wide position, he was the only player that troubled the Nigerians.

From the tournament’s outset it was clear: It was time for Pitroipa to step up. To this point in his international career, the Rennes star had failed to replicate his club form for country. As one of the Stallions’ few elite talents, Burkina Faso was only going to go as far as Pitroipa took them.

With a breakthrough performance, the 26-year-old put that criticism behind him. Seeing his red card suspension overturned before the final, Pitroipa nearly completed the first-time finalists’ Cinderella story. With a little more help from his teammates, he might have done it.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Not all sacred cows shouldn’t be worshipped – Nigeria’s diminishing results gave Keshi reason to show his icons the door, but the Super Eagles had to hit rock bottom before somebody (and really, only a few people) saw the light. Other countries with iconic burdens should look to the 2011 Not-So-Super Eagles as a lesson. You should act before you’re forced to do so.

Here in the States, we’re having a debate about Carlos Bocanegra. Fairly or not, people are also starting to whisper about Tim Howard. Italy had to fall flat in 2010, while England’s just recently started moving on from their almost golden generation. These debates happen all over the world.

The lesson to draw from Nigeria: Sometimes moving on doesn’t necessarily mean moving down. Teams get scared that moving the Bocanegras, Cannavaros, and Gerrards of the world aside represents a one-step back, two-step forward scenario, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes the difference in talent doesn’t match the gap in reputation. And reputations are only earned by playing.

Sometimes, you have to take a chance.

Oh these cagey, cagey finals – Burkina Faso wasn’t bad, but Nigeria was a much better team, just as Spain was a much better team than the Netherlands in South Africa. Both games ended 1-0 mostly because of the styles the teams employed. When the difference in reward between winning and losing is at its greatest, it’s no surprise teams become risk averse.

Mexico came out cagey and almost got burned in the last Gold Cup final. Japan beat Australia 1-0 in extra time of the last Asian confederation final. Only Uruguay (2011 Copa America) and Spain (Euro 2012) took recent finals by the horns, though Spain’s 2008 European title was also a 1-0.

There’ve only been three goals in the last five Cup of Nations finals, but that’s not all Africa. Games with these stakes usually produce cagey soccer.

source: Getty ImagesNot every talent plays in Europe – Of course, nobody thinks Europe has a monopoly on world soccer’s talent, but in an age of YouTube, internet streams, and blogs about everything, there is a sense that there are no undiscovered talents, only neglected ones.

Sunday’s final dispelled that notion. The Man of the Match is still playing in the Nigerian league. Godfrey Oboabona (right), one of Nigeria’s central defenders, also plays in his domestic league, while Burkina Faso’s impact substitute, Willy Sanou, is playing in the second division of Japanese soccer.

Those stories might not get people watching Morocco 2015, but it is a reminder that good soccer exists beyond our usual haunts. Tournaments like Copa America, Asian Cup, Cup of Nations and even our own Gold Cup are great showcases for it.

And if you’re lucky, some of that soccer will involve something distinct to that corner of the world. Like vuvuzelas. BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

Packaged for takeaway

  • Mba’s goal wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Victor Moses. The Chelsea attacker’s skill during a 1-on-3 produced the shot that was blocked out to Mba.
  • Burkina Faso played a 4-2-3-1 formation. Nigeria stayed with their 4-3-3, but electing not to press high during the early portion of the match, the defensive shape folded into a 4-1-4-1 through most of the first half. Rather than pressure Burkina Faso’s defense, Moses and Brown Ideye, the wingers at the onset, played very deep in Keshi’s initial base setup.
  • Sanou came closest to a Burkina Faso goal. A blast along the ground from 18 yards to the right of goal forced goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to palm the ball wide of the far post.
  • The referee mistakenly awarded Nigeria a goal kick on Sanou’s shot, meaning Burkina Faso finished their only Cup of Nations final without a shot on goal.
  • The win qualifies Nigeria for this summer’s Confederations Cup. They’ll be grouped with Spain, Uruguay, and Tahiti.

Liverpool fans warned, as Roma pledges support

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There was a terrible incident in Liverpool on Tuesday when a Reds supporter was set upon by Roma fans and left in critical condition.

Sean Cox, 53, was attacked outside a pub before Liverpool’s 5-2 UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg win over AS Roma.

[ MORE: LFC 5-2 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

Liverpool has released its plans to keep supporters safe should they be among the 5,000 with tickets in Rome on Wednesday (via LiverpoolFC.com), pledging the “most comprehensive safety and security advice.”

The club has taken the exceptional measure of requesting an extraordinary meeting in the Italian capital, which will take place on Friday April 27. … At the behest of Liverpool, club officials will join AS Roma, UEFA and the relevant Italian police and security services to discuss specific ongoing concerns.

Merseyside Police chief superintendent Dave Charnock backed up Roma’s police demand that Liverpool fans without tickets skip the trip to Italy. According to the BBC, Liverpool was asked to put fans names on their tickets to the game.

“While we understand and appreciate that many Liverpool fans will want to travel to Rome, I would encourage fans who do not have tickets to not travel,” he said.

AS Roma, for its part, posted a photo of Cox with the statement, “His recovery and the safety of all fans attending football matches, is the only thing that matters now.”

Report: Gerrard on Rangers shortlist ahead of Old Firm Derby

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Could Steven Gerrard‘s first foray into management come against his old manager and in one of the most heated derbies in the world?

The BBC is reporting that the Liverpool legend is on the shortlist for Rangers as the Glaswegian side prepares to hire a new manager in its bid to reverse Celtic domination of the Scottish Premiership and the Old Firm Derby.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Brendan Rodgers has engineered a marvelous run of form for Celtic, who went unbeaten in the league last season. Rodgers is also a sought-after managerial candidate for bigger jobs in Europe, and may not be at Celtic if and when Gerrard is hired by its rivals.

Either Celtic or Rangers have won the Scottish top flight title dating back to 1984-85, when champions Aberdeen were led by some guy named Alex Ferguson.

Rangers are facing a Manchester United moment this weekend, traveling to Celtic Park for a Sunday derby against Celtic which would see their rivals clinch the Premiership with a win.

Celtic has a 10-point lead on Rangers and Aberdeen, and is extremely likely to win its seventh-straight Premiership title. The record for most consecutive Scottish titles is nine, shared by Celtic (1966-74) and Rangers (1989-97).

Sweden announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s public flirtation and seeming committal to returning to the Swedish national team for the World Cup was a big tease.

Whether it’s his call or not is up for debate.

The Swedish Football Association reports that it’s spoken with Ibrahimovic and the 35-year-old LA Galaxy striker has declined the chance to return to the fold.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Sweden’s sporting director Lars Richt says Ibrahimovic has not changed his mind on international retirement despite his own words.

Sweden’s current team may have a role in that.

We imagine Richt and Sweden may be cushioning the blow for Ibrahimovic, especially if national team goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson is speaking on behalf of a team vibe when he speaks of Zlatan being “an individualist” who could ruin Sweden’s team-first concept.

Report: Fulham, NFL owner Khan agrees $700m price for Wembley

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Fulham owner Shad Khan also owns a National Football League team, and could have two top-flight teams from different nations playing in England soon.

For Fulham, the Cottagers are currently very much in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League and at the least will have a chance at qualifying through the playoffs.

[ MORE: TFC loses CCL Final in PKs ]

For the Jaguars, who have rarely needed all the seats in their stadium, it could mean a move to London if Khan goes through with what’s being reported as an accepted $700 million bid to buy Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was also built with the design to host NFL games.

Here’s how ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith puts a bow on it (on one of the biggest days of the NFL calendar, nonetheless):

So it’s possible that there could soon be two iconic soccer stadiums in London with strong NFL ties, one which was built with NFL games in mind, and another that is owned by an NFL owner. The league is pouring serious resources into London.

It seems unlikely Khan would move Fulham from Craven Cottage, but there are other repercussions of this move for soccer in England.

There’s the potential for the England national team to no longer utlizie a permanent home, and the FA Cup and League Cup both potentially requiring new or rotating venues for their final rounds.

A lot to monitor here, and we’ll surely have all the details as they emerge from Khan’s crew.