Key men to watch in the Afcon final

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Nigeria have graced the final of the African Nations' Cup six times before and won twice. For Burkina Faso, it's opening night and all the emotion and nerves that go with it, which is exactly why most aren't expecting them to win it.

Stephen Keshi's Super Eagles are favourites, although even they have surprised some with their run to the final. But after handing out defeats to Ivory Coast and Mali, two of the more likely candidates for the last two, it seems Nigeria's path is clear.

Even if isn't, at least people in the country will be able to watch the final on terrestrial television. Unless they had satellite cables before this, it will be their first viewing of the competition after the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria reached a deal over rights fees. Should the fixture air as planned, these are some of the players to look out for:

Jonathan Pitroipa
The diminutive winger is set to play despite being sent off in the semi-final because Tunisian referee Slim Jdidi has admitted making an error. CAF president Issa Hayoutou confirmed a written apology was sent by Jdidi and all that is left is for a disciplinary commission to ratify the statement and rescind the red-card.

That will be a big boost for the Burkinabe, especially as they are without Alain Traore, who was ruled out of the tournament during the group stages with a thigh injury. Pitroipa has been the engine room since Traore's departure, showing why local musicians chose to make a song about his extraordinary skill.

He is quick, able to evade markers and accurate. Although that only showed in glimpses while he was at Hamburg, where his goals to game ratio (two in 26) was a concern, he is currently enjoying a good season at Stade Rennais in France. He is considered so important to the Burkinabe's cause that captain Charles Kabore was said he "must" feature in the final and looks likely to get his wish.

Emmanuel Emenike
The tournament's joint top-scorer is the subject of speculation with a possible move to an English club from his Russian base at Spartak Moscow making headlines. Before he can think about whether Liverpool or Arsenal would be better places to ply his trade, he will want to net one (or maybe even two or three times) more for Nigeria.

He combines pace and power expertly and has shown a penchant for heading the ball home. With Victor Moses as a provider on the left wing, there is always plenty of opportunity for Emenike and he has the energy to make it count.

Emenike also has considerable local support. He played for Mpumalanga Black Aces and FC Cape Town and hopes to "come back and play for one of the top clubs in South Africa one day." His reputation has grown since his days in the South African league, though. After success in Turkey, he moved to Russia and came into this tournament with the record for scoring the fastest goal in their league, netting in 10 seconds. He will want to leave with a trophy.

Bakary Kone is a key figure in Burkina Faso's solid defence
GettyImagesBakary Kone is a key figure in Burkina Faso's solid defence

Bakary Kone and Paul Koulibaly
Burkina Faso's defence has been their standout feature. Before the semi-finals, they had only conceded once - against Nigeria in the tournament opener. The back pairing have been particularly impressive, along with Mohamed Koffi, who had to leave the field during the semi-final with injury but hopes to be fit for the final.

Ghana's captain Asamoah Gyan, identified the Burkinabe defence as "one of the best in the competition". He noted that they "are composed and do not give a lot of space". The battle between them, John Obi Mikel, Emmenike, Moses and Ahmed Musa could prove the most telling of the contest.

Joseph Yobo
It remains possible that the only sighting of the Nigerian captain will be from the bench for most of the match. He may make an appearance in the latter stages of the match, as he has done since being dropped following the opening game. Yobo was nursing a niggle before the event but Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona have been preferred to him in central defence since the second group match.

Yobo has reiterated that the 2013 ANC will be his last, although he will only retire from football after the 2014 World Cup. He has played 92 matches for Nigeria and is appearing in his sixth ANC, which he hopes will be the most memorable. "I am looking forward to lifting the trophy on Sunday but the work is now."

Vincent Enyeama, the goalkeeper who has deputised for Yobo, said the skipper remains "the one and only candidate to lift the trophy". Considering that his international career appears to be waning, he would know he is unlikely to get another opportunity to do that.

Stephen Keshi and Paul Put
The cameras should provide plenty of opportunity to keep an eye on the two managers who are both fairly satisfied men after the paths their teams have taken. For Put this is an exercise in reputation redemption after he has been ostracised after his involvement in the Belgian match-fixing scandal.

Keshi has won this competition before, in 1994, and will become only the second man in history to raise the cup as a player and a coach. Although the work is considered complete for both, there are memories to be made and neither would turn down the chance to be part of something special.

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