Nelspruit — Burkina Faso coach Paul Put is urging his players to seize the moment and secure qualification for the last eight of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
The west Africans take on defending champions Zambia on Tuesday evening in Nelspruit knowing that a draw will be enough to take them into the knockout stages for the first time since 1998. Back then, under the Frenchman Philippe Troussier, they finished fourth. The 2013 vintage is led by another European.
Belgian-born Put says: "I don't need to motivate my players because they have a chance to write a page of history."
"They played fantastically well to beat Ethiopia 4-0. But they face a difficult match against Zambia. They're the defending champions who won't want to give up their crown without a fight. But this is a huge opportunity for my players. They have something in their hands and they need to keep hold of it. It would be a pity if they didn't do it."
Striker Moumouni Dagano echoed Put's comments. "It will be a tough match," says the 32-year-old who plays his trade for Al-Sailiya in Qatar. "It's a decisive match. A draw will do but we want to go for a win to show what we can do."
Indeed. Burkina Faso midfielder Charles Kaboré has commented that the players have been riled by the absence of their country's players from the pre-competition publicity campaigns.
But really they've only got themselves to blame. None were exactly luminous during the last tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
There they lost all three of their group stage matches and went home humiliated. Coach Paulo Duarte paid the price for the fiasco with his job.
He was replaced by 56-year-old Put who appears a more avuncular presence among the players. And his bonhomie has been rewarded with five goals and four points. Lorient attacker Alain Traoré has notched three of them to make him the leading scorer of the tournament.
"That wasn't my main aim when I started the competition," says the 24-year-old. "My goal was to help the team to win and play well. But if I'm leading scorer, I'll take that."
It would have taken Ubersoothsaying properties to have envisaged this final day scenario in Group C; defending champions Zambia and Nigeria trailing in the wake of Burkina Faso. All that may change come late Tuesday. And yet it would be ironic if the 2012 fairy tale team were to be banished from the competition by this year's Cinderellas.
"The way of playing is also important," adds Put. "Confidence has risen by scoring three goals against Ethiopia when we were down to 10 men. Now it's up to the team to show that confidence again against Zambia."