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Nigeria hammers Mali, returns to African Cup final

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Associated Press
2/6/2013 12:57:13 PM
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DURBAN, South Africa -- Nigeria cruised to a 4-1 win over Mali on Wednesday to reach the African Cup final for the first time in more than a decade.

Nigeria dominated from the start and opened the scoring with a header by Elderson Echiejile in the 25th minute. Brown Ideye added to the lead after a breakaway in the 30th and Emmanuel Emenike netted from a free kick in the 44th.

Substitute Ahmed Musa scored the fourth goal in the 60th as Nigeria ended Mali's hopes of lifting the trophy to bring joy to the fans enduring political instability and conflicts back home.

Cheick Diarra got Mali's consolation goal in the 75th.

The Super Eagles will next face either Ghana or Burkina Faso, which meet later Wednesday in Nelspruit.

Nigeria dominated African football throughout the 1990s but hasn't been successful since. Now bidding to win the title for the third time -- and first since 1994 -- it has not reached the final since 2000.

Mali, with captain Seydou Keita ineffective through most of the match, was trying to reach the final for the first time in more than 30 years. It had also been eliminated in the semis in last year's tournament.

Players had said throughout the week that they wanted to win Wednesday to bring joy to fans in a country engulfed by political turmoil and clashes between French troops and Islamist extremists.

But it didn't take long before Nigeria took control of the match at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

Spartak Moscow's Emenike and Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel both had chances early, but it was Echiejile who found the net first after a nice move by Victor Moses, Mikel's club teammate. The striker beat a defender near the touchline before sending over a cross to Echiejile, who ran behind the defenders to head home.

Moses started the move for the second goal in a counterattack just five minutes later. He sent a perfect through ball to Emenike and the striker quickly found Ideye inside the area for an easy shot.

Emenike added to the lead just before halftime with a low free kick that deflected off the wall before reaching the far post, while Musa was left completely unmarked to score an easy goal in the second half.

Musa had only been on the pitch for three minutes, having replaced Moses because of an injury. Details were not immediately available and his status for the final remains unclear.

Musa then had a goal disallowed for offside in the following attack by Nigeria.

Mali kept possession near the end and threatened on a few occasions. Cheick Diarra scored Mali's lone goal with a shot from inside the area after a move started by Cheick Diabate.

Nigeria entered the semifinal motivated by a victory over Ivory Coast's star-filled squad in the quarterfinals, while Mali eliminated host nation South Africa.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi, who captained the team which won the title in 1994, knew the Mali players well after coaching the team from 2008-10, including during an African Cup of Nations.

Keshi is trying to become the first black African coach to win the cup since Ivory Coast's Yeo Martial in 1992. Kwesi Appiah will also get the chance this year if his Ghana team advances to the final.

Brown Ideye (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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