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Nigeria and Burkina Faso reached the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals Sunday as Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba departed the stage for the last time without the gold medal he craved.
The Nigerian Super Eagles were too quick and slick for the often ponderous Ivorian Elephants and won 2-1 at Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in north-western mining town Rustenburg through goals from Emmanuel Emenike and Sunday Mba.
After the drama of Rustenburg, the crowd 400 kilometres east in Nelspruit had to endure two hours of drab fare before Burkina Faso edged Togo 1-0 thanks to a Jonathan Pitroipa goal halfway through extra time.
Former champions Nigeria face Mali in the first semi-final Wednesday in Indian Ocean city Durban, followed three hours later by Burkina Faso against four-time title-holders Ghana in Nelspruit.
Even a soft Cheik Tiote equaliser five minutes into the second half failed to lift perennial title favourites Ivory Coast and Mba scored 12 minutes from time with a shot deflected by Souleman Bamba over goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
Long considered a liability in the Drogba-skippered team, Barry was badly at fault for the first goal as he stood still to allow Emenike score from distance after John Obi Mikel touched a free kick sideways.
Former Chelsea striker Drogba said several months ago that the 2013 tournament would be his Africa Cup swansong and he dreamt of lifting the trophy on February 10 at Soccer City stadium in Soweto.
But Drogba and other members of the 'golden generation' were given the run around by a mainly young, gifted Nigerian side, who are shaping up as possible champions after a slow start in which they were held by Burkina Faso.
"The boys showed character," boasted Nigeria coach and 1994 Cup of Nations gold medalist and captain Stephen Keshi. "When I played for Nigeria I had to fight, fight, fight, and they did that today.
"Sunday scored a beautiful, beautiful goal," added a coach hoping to emulate the late Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary and win the Africa Cup as a player and as a coach.
Grim-faced Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi said there was understandable sadness as Ivory Coast once again 'choked', failing for a fifth consecutive tournament to justify the tag of favourites.
"For certain players this could be their last chance so, yes, there is disappointment in the dressing room. Our aim was to win the title, but our efforts proved not to be enough."
Apart from 34-year-old Drogba, Barry, Didier Zokora and out-of-favour fellow centre-back Kolo Toure are set to exit the international scene, while the future of Lamouchi must be in doubt.
The Frenchman of Tunisian origin succeeded Ivorian Francois Zahoui, who got the boot although he took the Elephants to second spot behind Zambia at the 2012 Cup of Nations in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea.
Togo skipper Emmanuel Adebayor had the best chances to break the deadlock during regular time at Mbombela Stadium, but Mady Panandetiguiri cleared a header off the line and goalkeeper Daouda Diakite raced out to block a shot.
The lone goal came in the last minute of the first half of extra time with Pitroipa steering a near-post header off a corner past goalkeeper Kossi Agassa and into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
"What we worked on in training was put into practice," boasted Belgium-born Burkina Faso coach Paul Put. "Physically, the players surprised me with what they gave tonight."
Togo coach and former France star Didier Six was upbeat despite being ousted: "This young team with so many qualities made history by becoming the first from the country to reach the quarter-finals and the future is bright."