EVELYN WATTA/AIPS in DURBAN: When Burkina Faso set off for South Africa on January 7, they were just simply setting off for a brief African Nations Cup stint; Unlike their West African neighbours the Burkinabe’s were probably the only team not crushed by expectation.
Even with a budget of €2m set aside for their qualification and participation by President Blaise Compaore, the Stallions remained realistic of their chances that included holders Zambia and powerful Nigeria (who beat Mali 4-1 in the first semi-final).
So much so that when the government sponsored Burkina Faso football supporters of about 100 fans set off for Nelspruit, their budget was calculated to cover their expenses only for the first round, a limit they could not crack in Angola.
The team’s continual progression forced the fans to dig deep to cover their expenses up until Thursday when they would head back to the capital Ouagadougou and await their teams’ return after their play-off match in Port Elizabeth.
It was inconceivable to even imagine a final qualification for their national team whose best showing was a freak semi final as hosts in 1998.
“We were meant to have travelled back last week but struggled hard to stay through until today because the Government had only paid for our stay for a week,” said a thrilled Burkinabe fan, Traore, draped in his country’s flag.
“I think tonight the government will send money for our accommodation and food so that we can continue supporting our team.”
It seemed as if only Belgian coach Paul Put who took over from Portuguese Paulo Duarte barely a year ago, progression by his players who all play professional football abroad. Impressive draws against finalists Nigeria’s Super Eagles(1-1) last years winner Zambia(0-0) and a convincing 4-1 drubbing over Ethiopia sent them to the knockout stage.
“By beating Ethiopia everyone in Burkina was happy and said now you can come back, but I urged the players that we can go even further and do better,” said Put who has whipped up the Stallions up the football ranks alongside established neighbours such as Ivory Coast and Ghana or even Mali, which is borders to the north.
Their neighbours’ football breed had finally rubbed off on the landlocked nation, as they copped in less than ideal conditions in a tie that will be remembered more for its poor refereeing and bumpy Mbombela Stadium pitch than the dazzling play.
The match had it all: disallowed goals, missed chances, goals, yellow cards, injuries, great saves, extra-time, penalties.
Ghana were chasing their fifth Nations Cup and took the lead from a penalty by Espanyol striker Wakaso Mubarrak – his fourth goal of the finals – after Christain Atsu was brought down by Burkinabe captain Charles Kabore.
The Black Stars wasted more chances and were punished on the hour when
Aristides Bance equalised. That sent the tie into extra-time when the Burkinabe thought Nakoulma had hit the winner only for Tunisian referee Jdidi Slim to disallow the ‘goal’ controversially.
Pitroipa was soon sent off in the dying minute of the game for a second yellow after the referee ruled that a trip on him had been a dive.
But not even the contentious refereeing could not undermine the Burkina Faso team ranked 23rd in Africa and 92 in the world.
Put said: “I think the best player of the games was the referee. I was feeling very upset that Burkina would not play in the final because of him. But I told the players: Let’s not let the referee frustrate our game, let’s play on.”
The Burkinabes held their nerve to the shootout 3-2 after Isaac Vorsa and Emmanuel Agyemang shot embarrassingly wide for the Black stars. Bance, man of the match, drove home the winning penalty.
Now they play overwhelming favourites Nigeria in the final. But they will not go into without hope and coming this far against all expectation.
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