For Burkina Faso, simply reaching the final of South Africa 2013 is history in the making. The Burkinabe had previously only reached last four of the Africa Cup of Nations once, on home soil in 1998, and though many observers were aware of the talent that lies in Paul Pot’s squad, it remains a huge shock to see the Stallions in the final ahead of traditional continental powerhouses Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
The Burkinabe will certainly not be favourites going into the final against a rampant Nigeria side that is extremely high on confidence after dispatching pre-tournament favourites the Ivory Coast in the last eight, before demolishing Mali in the last four. However, the Super Eagles have been known to choke on the big occasion at times and if Victor Moses, one of the stars of the tournament, fails to prove his fitness ahead of Sunday night at Soccer City, then the pendulum may just swing back Burkina Faso’s way.
The two teams have already met earlier in the tournament when a late Alain Traore equaliser secured a 1-1 draw after Emmanuel Emenike had put the Nigerians in front in the first-half. Traore would then add two more goals to his tally in an exhilarating display against Ethiopia before picking up an injury in the Burkinabe’s final group match against Zambia that would rule him out of the rest of the tournament.
It was said that with Traore’s injury would go Burkina Faso’s chance of progressing beyond the last eight, particularly against an Emmanuel Adebayor-inspired Togo and then in the semi-finals against a Ghana side that serenely and confidently progressed through the competition. However, Traore’s absence left the stage clear for Jonathan Pitroipa to step up and make his mark on the tournament.
The Rennes wide man looked the one player capable of brilliance against the Togolese while against Ghana, Pitroipa was outstanding as he continually tore apart the opposition defence with his direct running and lightning pace. Thus, the decision to overturn the red card given to him for diving during the clash with the Black Stars could prove to be a momentous one for Burkina Faso.
Without both him and Traore it is difficult to imagine the Burkinabe mustering enough pace or penetration to trouble Nigeria but with Pitroipa, Pot’s men will be confident that with another display like the one against Ghana, the Stallions could be heading home as champions of Africa.
A year ago Burkina Faso arrived in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon as one of the dark horses for a tilt at glory. Indeed, with Pitroipa and Traore either side of Momouni Dagano, backed up by Bakary Kone in central defence, the Burkinabe squad was even being spoken of as a “Golden Generation”. Thus, the shock was palpable when the Stallions crashed out, losing all three games, the last of which to minnows Sudan.
One year on and this is a clearly a different outfit. Where they were once fragile, Burkina Faso now look rock-solid and if Pitroipa can bring his semi-final form to Soccer City on Sunday night, the Africa Cup of Nations may have its second surprise winner in a row.
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