Nigeria bested Ethiopia 2-0 in Group C play of the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday, securing the Super Eagles a spot in the upcoming knockout round.
Widely considered among the top talents in the tournament, Nigeria have played capricious football throughout. It needed a point to advance over defending champion Zambia, and for quite a while, it seemed they might not get it.
Deadlocked at 0-0 with less than 15 minutes remaining, Nigeria's Victor Moses did well to create two penalty opportunities for his side. He proceeded to finish both strikes and lead his team to the deceiving final score.
Nigeria will play Cote d'Ivoire in the next round, while Ethiopia are sent packing with an 0-2-1 record. But for now, let's take a look at whose form was finest on Tuesday afternoon.
First Star: Victor Moses, Nigeria
How could it be anybody else?
With Nigeria on the ropes, staring down the ever-more-likely ignominy of being eliminated in group play, Moses pulled a Greg Jennings and put the team squarely on his back.
Both of the 22-year-old striker's goals came from the penalty line, but that shouldn't serve to diminish their brilliance. Moses earned both kicks himself (that is, he drew the foul in the box), and buried both with precision and aplomb.
The late-game charge he made is exactly what inspired Chelsea to acquire Moses from Wigan this summer, and additionally what's helped him earn respectable playing time for the Blues.
After being dropped from the team's opener against Burkina Faso, there were whispers that Moses might not be in proper form for this tournament. I think it's safe to say he quieted those in the final 10-plus minutes of this match.
Nigeria already knew that it was lucky to have Moses—who is a dual citizen and could have chosen to play for England—suiting up in its colors. Never was that more explicit than Tuesday afternoon.
Second Star: Ikechukwu Uche, Nigeria
He and his teammates were unable to convert them into goals, but Uche helped create a couple of promising opportunities in the early going.
The Villareal striker got in on goal in the fourth minute, but the keeper was able to grab it off his foot. He might have done better with the finish, but he was adventurous in creating the opportunity nonetheless.
Later, in the 24th minute, Uche shared the wealth, playing teammate Elderson Echiejile into prime position for a finish. But, as Goal.com so properly phrased it, Echiejile "skied" the shot, costing Nigeria another good chance.
No goals came of those intrepid early plays, but one has to admire Uche for creating opportunities.
Third Star: Sisay Bancha, Ethiopia
Feels odd giving a star to the losing keeper—especially when he was ejected from the game with a red card. But if anyone on the Ethiopia side deserves recognition, it's him.
Bancha was tested early and often by a Nigeria squad that dominated both possession and chances. And up until very late in the game, the Ethiopian keeper had an answer for every shot he faced.
The red card is uncertainly a blemish, but given context, there was little more Bancha could do. Moses was in clear and Bancha did what he thought would give his side the best chance at victory.
Hard to fault him too much for that.