28 January 2013

Africa: Paul Put Secures Burkina's First Afcon Win in 15 Years

Former Gambia head coach Paul Put's 10-man Burkina Faso surged to the top of Africa Cup of Nations Group C, with an emphatic victory over Ethiopia on Friday. It was the first time Burkina Faso won a match at the Nations Cup away from home soil, finally succeeding at the 22nd time of asking in some style.

The last time they secured a win at the continent's global showpiece event was in 1998 when as host team they were knocked out at the semifinals by eventual winners Egypt. After losing all three games at Gabon and Equatorial Guinea last year, the former Genk and SK Lierse coach, Put was drafted in to replace sacked Paulo Duarte in a three-year contract, tasked with changing the team's fortunes. That decision has proved to be a masterstroke.

Put's tactics were put to the test in the so far two games he has played at South Africa 2013 when his substitute scored a stoppage time equaliser for a 1-1 draw with Nigeria the other time and he was once again challenged after goalkeeper Soulama was sent off on the hour. He made a double substitution and the Stallions took control of proceedings after that. They had taken a 1-0 lead at halftime when striker Alain Traore gathered a clever ball over the top and blasted into the top corner.

Traore doubled their advantage on 74 minutes, driving home at the near post, before Djakaridja Kone made it three. Playmaker Jonathan Pitroipa sealed the rout, after goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama had earlier been dismissed. It was a mockery of Ethiopia's numerical advantage, as Traore collected a deft flick from Pitroipa and smashed home with his left foot, to double his tally. Djakaridja Kone made it three five minutes later, with Pitroipa again providing the assist, playing in the midfielder, who slid home at the near post.

Provider Pitroipa then deservedly wrapped up a resounding win five minutes into injury time, finishing an inch-perfect pass from substitute Wilfried Balima beautifully to seal Burkina Faso's first Nations Cup win since they reached the semi-finals on home turf in 1998. The result puts them ahead of Nigeria and Zambia in Group C, after the Super Eagles and Chipolopolo drew 1-1 earlier, and consigns Ethiopia to the bottom of the pile ahead of the final round of group games.

Speaking to the press after the final whistle, Paul Put said the victory was a great boost for his Burkina Faso side's confidence but added they have to put their feet on the ground with some work still to be done before securing a quarterfinal spot. "When we scored (our first goal), it acted as a release. We played freely and with 10 players against 11, we did very well. This is great for our confidence. Everyone wanted to prove something. We are closer to qualifying, but we have to keep our feet on the ground" he said.

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