Nigeria, Burkina Faso clash in Africa Cup final
JOHANNESBURG - Reuters
Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa (top) celebrate his goal against Mali with teammate Efe Ambrose during their African Cup of Nations (AFCON 2013) semi-final soccer match at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban.Nigeria is one win away from ending a 19-year wait to reclaim the African Nations Cup but the favorite is wary of the threat posed by surprise finalists Burkina Faso in the showdown at Soccer City on Feb. 10.
When they drew 1-1 in their opening Group C match 18 days ago, there was little to indicate that the two west African nations would meet again in the final.
However, both teams have shown grit, determination and a winning mentality that promises an excellent finale to the three-week long tournament in front of a sell-out crowd.
Nigeria appears to hold most of the keys to success having no real injury worries apart from some concerns over forward Victor Moses who has been outstanding but picked up another niggling problem in the 4-1 victory over Mali in the semifinal on Feb. 6. In contrast, Burkina Faso will have to do without Alain Traore, who scored three goals at the start of the tournament but has missed out on the knockout rounds because of injury. The team might also be missing defender Mohamed Koffi who went off injured in the 3-2 penalty shootout victory over Ghana in its semifinal.
Burkina Faso’s star striker Jonathan Pitroipa, who picked up a red card in the semifinal, is set to play in the final after the referee admitted he had made a mistake in booking the player for a second time for diving, president of CAF, African football’s governing body, Issa Hayatou said.
Jdidi’s admission that he had erred paves the way for the red card to be rescinded and for Pitroipa to take his place in the Burkina Faso side to face Nigeria at Soccer City on Sunday. Pitroipa produced the only goal in the 1-0 extra-time quarter-final win over Togo. He has helped lighten the blow of the Burkinabe losing their best striker Alain Traore to injury. Jdidi, who has been suspended for his poor performance in Wednesday’s game, sent off the Rennes forward in the 117th minute of the game that Burkina won on penalties against Ghana.
The two teams, who both like to go forward quickly and play to their attacking strengths, have reached the final in contrasting style with Nigeria.
Burkina Faso had to battle to a 1-0 extra-time victory over Togo in its quarterfinal and then played for another two hours without breaking the deadlock against Ghana in a match that finished 1-1 and went its way on penalties. The team’s never-say-die spirit and determination could test Nigeria to the full in the final if the Stallions defence can keep at bay a Super Eagles attack. Koffi has been impressive at the back for Burkina Faso along with Paul Koulibaly and Bakary Kone but Nigeria are a handful going forward with Moses and John Obi Mikel, teammates at European champions Chelsea, showing their class in midfield. Up front Emmanuel Emnenike, with three goals, has been dangerous and scored against the Burkinabe in the two teams’ opener.Burkina Faso possesses an astonishing team spirit and determination personified by the indefatigable Aristides Bance, one of the stand-out players at the tournament.
The powerfully-built forward, who plays in Germany for FC Augsburg, had some indifferent early games but never stopped running, working and shooting against Ghana.
He had eight goal attempts, saw a header and a crisp close-range shot saved on the line and took the most audacious penalty in the shootout when he calmly dummied goalkeeper Fatau Dauda and then raised his hands and smiled in mock-belief as if to say, “How did I just do that?”
Oddly, both sides are likely to be without their captains who have slipped out of contention during the tournament.
Burkina Faso skipper Moumouni Dagano lost his place following some indifferent form while Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo was injured and coach Stephen Keshi was not prepared to change a winning side even when he returned to full fitness.
The match is also naturally highly significant for the two coaches, who could hardly be cut from more different cloth.
Burkina Faso coach, Belgian Paul Put, is seeking something of a personal redemption after he was banned for life in Belgium after being involved in a match-fixing scandal in 2007.
His opposite number Keshi will write his name in the record books if he leads Nigeria to a third African title. Keshi captained the Super Eagles to their last title in 1994 and could become only the second man in the 56-year history of the tournament to win it as player and coach.