30 January 2013

Zambia/Burkina Faso: Steely Burkinabe Can Aim for Afcon Semi-Finals

Photo: Chris Ricco/Backpagepix
Burkinabe players and fans celebrate their progress to the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.

Nelspruit — For Burkina Faso, surprise qualification to the quarter-finals of the African Nations Cup has been hailed as historic.

It is not, in the sense that they have done it before, but the achievement in Nelspruit on Tuesday night far overshadows similar progress to the last eight when they hosted the event in 1998.

Then they were riding a wave of popular sentiment on home soil and got a few lucky breaks in the first round after they had lost the opening game of the tournament. This time, however, qualification came with clever application and a sense of steely fortitude.

To finish top of Group C would have been beyond their wildest dreams - particularly as they had Nigeria and Zambia in their group - but the Burkinabe now have a realistic tilt at a semi-final place.

Tuesday's goalless draw with Zambia ensured top place with five points, ahead of Nigeria on goal difference. "Les Etalons" now play either Tunisia or Togo, a match they will feel they can win and go on to the semi-final next week.

They employed a defensive approach on Tuesday, dispensing with an outright striker and flooding the midfield and defence with bodies. They had a plan to catch Zambia on the counter-attack, but it fell apart when Alain Traore went off injured after just 10 minutes.

Nevertheless, with Charles Kabore leading the line and players like Djakaridja Kone and Paul Koulibaly playing above themselves, they gave Zambia little quarter.

"We believed we could go further in this. It's a night of history for Burkina Faso," said coach Paul Put afterwards.

"We had double motivation, being close to qualification and playing against the champions. I told the players this chance might never come again," the Belgian-born coach added. "Traore going out messed our plans a bit but we had the capability to adjust. This is the result of a lot of hard work by all of us."

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