BLUES AIM FOR GLORY IN AFRICA
Victor Moses faces a late fitness test to determine his availability for Sunday evening's Africa Cup of Nations final, although the player is optimistic about appearing in the match against Burkina Faso.
Should Nigeria win in Johannesburg then Moses, John Mikel Obi and Kenneth Omeruo will become the first to triumph in the tournament while Chelsea players and they head into the match as favourites, although last year's final when Zambia overcame heavily-backed Ivory Coast acts as a warning against any complacency.
The Ivorians, with Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou involved, were one of the sides overcome by Nigeria on the way to this year's final, with the Super Eagles steadily improving as the tournament progressed.
Today's opponents Burkina Faso held them to a draw in the first group game and another draw against Zambia in the next match left qualification for the knockout stage very much in the balance, until two Moses penalties late on against Ethiopia in the third match, both won by the Chelsea winger, took them through as group runners up.
Ivory Coast were defeated 2-1 in the quarter-finals before Mali were taken apart 4-1 in the semi-finals with Moses again starring before he had to be taken off with 53 minutes played.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi, who played the last time his nation won the Cup of Nations in 1994, reports on the fitness of Moses and tournament topscorer Emmanuel Emenike: 'I can understand the apprehension of the [Nigerian] public over the two players but we must be a little patient, because the medical team is working round the clock. I will wait till the last minute.'
However Moses tweeted on Saturday from his @VictorMoses account:
'Training today and injury should be fine lookin forward to massive game tomorrow' followed later by, 'Good training session today the lads are all lookin sharp for the game tomorrow can't wait to get going'
Chelsea's technical director and former Nigeria international Michael Emenalo has been keeping a close eye on the tournament and our players involved.
'Apart from the opening game Nigeria have been able to dominate most of the other games,' he says.
'The first game of a tournament is always a tricky one and losing a goal in the last minute of stoppage time wasn't a good start to the tournament, but they bounced back really well and the win against Ivory Coast brought much needed confidence to the side because it is a young team but a very good team.
'It took a while for some of the outstanding older talents to retire from the national team but now it is a new breed and the coach deserves a lot of credit for his strong decision to build with fresh players and fresh ideas.
'They couldn't have had a better time for Victor to arrive. He was in his best form at Chelsea and he left for the tournament after the FA Cup game at Southampton where he was outstanding. It is not a surprise for us he is doing so well for Nigeria.
'He will do everything to be fit for the final but he has a calm head and he won't risk serious injury. He will play only if he is fit.'
Mikel has won plenty of praise for his performances in a role more advanced than his usual Chelsea duties. He has carried it out in typically unselfish style and at just 25 he is a senior member of the side which led to him taking the responsibility of penalty in the group stage. Unfortunately he hit the post.
'Against Ivory Coast Mikel was outstanding because he has a cool head and kept the ball under incredible pressure,' reports Emenalo. 'He slowed it down at the right time and is starting to show his leadership qualities.'
Omeruo (pictured below), the 19-year-old central defender on-loan at Den Haag, came into the Nigeria team during the first game and has not looked back.
'He is very thorough and precise and calm, and his distribution and use of the ball is at a mature level,' says Emenalo.
'It can be difficult to convince people that you have a player who is at Den Haag that might have potential to compete at Chelsea, but it helps us to see in this tournament there is something to work with. He has to push on from there.'
Burkina Faso reached today's final by knocking out Togo after extra time and then Ghana (for whom Michael Essien is not playing) after extra time and penalties. That win bettered their previous best showing when they were hosts in 1998.
There has been concern expressed about poor pitches and attendances in the earlier matches of this year's tournament in South Africa but like Nigeria, the competition has got better as the weeks past.
'Africans love their football so why there have not been so many people in the stands I don't know, but from the quarter-finals it has been the tournament we expected,' says Emenalo, 'and hopefully the final will be a showcase and fun for everyone to watch.
'Nigeria will be the favourites. The Burkina Faso team has become more tactically aware and more confident but Nigeria is a very strong and explosive team. The two centre-backs are young and strong and the midfield has a lot of power. Up front they have pace. I expect they will win.'
The match kicks off at 6.30pm UK time and is live on ITV4 and Eurosport.