16 January 2015

Burkina Faso/Gabon: Burkinabe in the Running for Afcon Finalists

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix
Pierre Aubameyang somersaults after opening the scoring for Gabon and setting them on the road to a win against Burkina Faso on Saturday.

Burkina Faso will hope to repeat their remarkable run to the final of the 2013 African Nations Cup when they begin their latest campaign against Gabon at the Estadio de Bata on Saturday.

The Burkinabe were beaten by Nigeria in the decider two years ago, ending a fairytale tournament for the side which showed their potential as surprise winners of this year's competition.

They have a tough start though against a Gabon side packed with talent and playing in familiar conditions, coming as they do from just across the border with Equatorial Guinea.

But they will also know their opponents well - the two sides were paired together in the qualifiers, when Gabon won the pool ahead of Burkina Faso, but by only a single point. They played back-to-back matches within four days in October, with star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang getting both goals in a 2-0 win for Gabon at home, before the side drew 1-1 in Ouagadougou.

With Belgian coach Paul Put still in charge and many of the players who did duty two years ago remaining in the side, Burkina Faso have continuity and will certainly be considered among the potential competition winners again.

That view will only have been strengthened by a positive build-up to the tournament.

Superstitious Burkina Faso officials insisted that the team go for their tournament preparation back to Nelspruit in South Africa, where they prepared for the 2013 event, hoping that spending time there would help them replicate their achievements. They concluded on Tuesday with a 2-0 win over a young Botswana side, with Jonathan Zongo and Aristide Bance both scoring in the space of three minutes.

In their first warm-up game they thrashed Swaziland 5-1 at the Mbombela Stadium last Saturday.

From the comfort of Nelspruit, the side have endured a rough start in Equatorial Guinea with Put one of a number of coaches who has criticised facilities.

Burkina Faso's chances again lie largely with key man Jonathan Pitroipa, who was named player of the tournament at the last finals and finished top scorer in the 2015 qualifiers.

But Gabon have a match-winner of their own in Borussia Dortmund forward Aubameyang, who was among the final three named for the prestigious African Footballer of the Year crown in 2014 before losing out to Yaya Toure.

He is a talismanic presence in the Gabon side and if they are to make any impression on the tournament this year, will be crucial to that cause.

French-born, with a Spanish mother but raised in Italy, he chose to play for the country of his father, who captained the side when they made their maiden Nations Cup finals appearance two decades ago. He also owes the team after he botched the decisive kick in the penalty shootout that saw the 2012 co-hosts eliminated by Mali in the quarter-finals.

Burkina Faso

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