AFCON 2013: Group C Focus - Finely-balanced group sees lively opening
The second round of fixtures in an evenly-balanced Africa Cup of Nations 2013 Group C take place on Friday as holders Zambia meet former winners Nigeria and Burkina Faso play Ethiopia.
Both of the matches already played ended 1-1, Nigeria conceding a late goal to Burkina Faso forward Alain Traore to give up what would have been a valuable three points and Ethiopia recovering from missing a penalty and having their goalkeeper sent off in the first-half to hold last year’s competition winners Zambia to a draw.
The two draws mean that if any nation can take a victory they will be in pole position to reach the next stage. Such is the nature of tournament football, even in the group stage, that one result can change everything, something only exacerbated when the first round of games passes without the teams giving up parity.
It may be something of a cliché that African football features woeful defending and reckless tackling, but Zambia and Ethiopia did little to dispel it in their match in Nelspruit. The red card shown to goalkeeper Jemal Tassew, shown as he was being stretchered off, was a particular low-point - or highlight, depending on what you make of stomach high tackles by a goalkeeper some 40 yards out of his goal.
Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw felt the red card was undeserved, with BBC Sport quoting Bishaw as saying: “The goalkeeper also has to defend. He went to defend the ball, and shouldn't have been red-carded.”
Former Portsmouth striker Collins Mbesuma put Zambia in front on the stroke of half-time but Adane Girma levelled just after an hour. The draw meant that if either Nigeria or Burkina Faso could edge a victory, they would be in a commanding position for the rest of the group stage.
For most of the match between the two it appeared as though the Super Eagles were going to take charge. Emmanuel Emenike scored after 23 minutes and Stephen Keshi’s team held on for 70 minutes - unfortunately for Nigeria there were 71 minutes to play after Emenike’s goal and Traore scored in the fourth minute of injury time.
The course of the match though changed with Efe Ambrose’s red card. The Celtic defender picked up two yellow cards, the second of which came when he resorted to pulling back Jonathan Pitropia, the winger who later created Traore’s goal.
Nigeria were previously on top until being reduced to 10 men, going through the opposite emotions to their Ethiopian rivals. A touch more composure from Ikechukwu Uche would have wrapped up the game long before injury time, but then again Burkina Faso could have been level or even ahead had captain Moumouni Dagano done better when in front of goal.
Red cards, shoddy defending, dangerous tackles, poor finishing and draws have been the theme of Group C so far and breaking the chain will put one team in a strong position with just one game to play. The group looks like being settled by the slimmest of margins.
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