10 February 2013

Uganda: Afcon - the Final Showdown

Johannesburg — WHEN Tunisian ref Slim Jedidi called time on the dramatic semi-final between Ghana and Burkina Faso, there was a mixture of joy and anger inside the Mbombela Stadium.

At one moment, Burkina Faso players could be seen celebrating their historic progression to the final. Then minutes later, seen screaming and seething at what they deemed atrocious refereeing into reporters' microphones.

One of the few that spoke English in the Burkina Faso line-up Mohamed Koffi was heard bellowing: "God is great! God is greater than man."

The biggest rebuke however came from their coach Paul Put, who uncharacteristically stated: "This was a scandal. It is clear the ref was against us"

The tension in the build-up to today's final between Nigeria and Burkina Faso

has risen to fever-pitch since that controversial night when Jedidi sent off Burkina Faso's Jonathan Pitroipa for diving, then awarded Ghana a dubious penalty minutes after cancelling Burkina's legitimate goal.

All insinuations from neutrals here are that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had a deliberate plot to eliminate the Stallions -allusions that have not gone down well with CAF.

On Friday, the body's general secretary Hicham El Amrani was forced to hit back, stating: "I cannot accept comments about CAF being against one federation or country. That's nonsense for us."

Whether the allegations are 'right or wrong', Burkina Faso stand has since remained. That if they are to stand a chance against the mighty Super Eagles at the National Stadium, it will be a product of 'luck and hard work'.

"It will be tough for us because Nigeria have been the best team in the tournament. But we too have proved to be a good team and will try to win it," Put pointed.

There are already nine reasons as to why Burkina Faso can afford to dream of a historic win -as 'nine' is the number of times Nations Cup final debutantes have won the tournament since its inception in 1957.

In fact, the Stallions will take encouragement from the fact that the last time the tournament was won by a team playing in the final for the first time, the match was played at the venue where today's game will be contested.

Back in 1996, South Africa defied all odds to be crowned champions at the Nasrec Arena that has since been rebuilt.

So far, the Stallions have already upset the odds that had installed them as potential first round casualties.

They played the Super Eagles in their first game of the tournament and although they had to come from behind to force a 1-1 draw, they had the last laugh as they topped Group C.

Finishing top meant the Stallions were to enjoy the privilege of playing all their matches at the Mbombela, while Nigeria had to travel to places like Rustenburg and Durban.

However it must be noted that Burkina Faso will be depleted and weary as both of their previous knockout games -against Togo and then Ghana -went into extra time.

On the contrary, Nigeria had a less taxing path to the final. They won both their quarterfinal and semifinal matches in normal time.

The Super Eagles are flying high since their historic 2-1 win over Ivory Coast and 1-4 drubbing of Mali.

The Super Eagles have struggled to find a consistent striker over the years but seem to have discovered one in Emmanuel Emenike.

The Russian-based striker who is the tournament's joint top scorer with four goals could prove the difference in this epic 'David v Goliath' final.

How the two teams match up

Today, 9pm:

Nigeria v Burkina Faso

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