It’s all to play for in Africa Cup of Nations Group C as the last round of fixtures approaches with three of the four teams still able to qualify for the next stage. Burkina Faso are in the driving seat, top of the table with four points, but Zambia and Nigeria – each on two points – could both overtake them. Only Ethiopia have only pride to play for.
A point will be enough for the Burkinabe but defending champions Zambia need all three from their contest, while a first win of the tournament for the Super Eagles of Nigeria against bottom side Ethiopia will put them through.
Nigeria have thus far been plagued by late lapses of concentration, conceding with only minutes – and in the case of the Burkina Faso match – seconds to go. Against Zambia it was in the 85th minute when goalkeeper Ken nedy Mweene netted a penalty, while Alain Traore’s equaliser for Burkina Faso arrived with the last kick of the game.
Traore has three goals to his name in the competition so far and will again be key for Burkina Faso. A draw sends them through, taking Los Etalons to five points – only Nigeria could equal that total, but Coach Paul Put will want to progress as group winners.
The prize of finishing second in this group is questionable – tournament favourites Ivory Coast are waiting in the next round. The two potential runners-up from Group D, Togo and Tunisia, still represent difficult challenges, but eminently preferable to playing the unbeaten Ivorians.
For Zambia, conquerors of Ivory Coast in the final a year ago, a first round exit would be a massive disappointment. Coach Herve Renard believes his side are well-placed to match their objective of at least a quarter-final spot, and perhaps he is correct. Beating Burkina Faso, ranked by FIFA some 53 places lower, is not out of the realm of possibility, and there is the chance that the 1998 hosts freeze on what is their biggest occasion since then.
15 years ago Burkina Faso finished the competition in fourth place, their best ever showing at an Africa Nations tournament, after losing the semi-final to Egypt and the third-place play-off against DR Congo on penalties. But this is a new generation of Burkinabes, potentially ready to write their own history and inspired by the impressive Traore.
If Zambia are to fail to defend their title then how the Copper Bullets will rue the opening match draw with Ethiopia, who proved to be the stragglers of the group. It was all going so well, too, with Collins Mbsemua giving Zambia the lead just before half-time, against an Ethiopia side reduced to 10 men after goalkeeper Jemal Tassew was dismissed for a quite stunning foul.
Adane Girma though scored what so far is Ethiopia’s only goal of the tournament, throwing a wrench into the works for Zambia, and leaving the last round of games finely balanced. They could yet go either way.
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