Burkina Faso believe in final destiny

 
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 will forever etch in the minds of football lovers in Burkina Faso after The Stallions reached the final of the Cup of Nations.

The final against Nigeria remains the biggest feat in their football history to date.
 
Burkina Faso had carved a niche for themselves as a rising force in African football over the years with successes at the youth level, where their best record remains a bronze medal at the 2001 edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago. However, they have laboured in vain to replicate the performance at the senior level with The Stallions.
 
That’s all changed in South Africa.

After snatching a late draw against the Super Eagles of Nigeria in their opener, the Stallions decimated the Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia 4-0 courtesy a brace from star man Alain Traore and a goal each from Djakaridja Kone and Jonathan Pitroipa. Till this stage, it remains the biggest win at the ongoing tournament.
 
The Stallions sealed their place at the knockout stage of the tournament with a 0-0 draw over holders Zambia in the final group game. The result ended the reign of the Chipolopolo of Zambia, as they crashed out of the competition. However, the qualification came with a bitter-sweet feeling for Put and his boys, as three goal playmaker Traore was ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a thigh injury.
 
Jonathan Pitroipa picked up the goalscoring baton with the match winner in extra-time against Togo at the quarters to book a date with neighbours Ghana at the last four.

Against the Black Stars the match was characterised by a refereeing performance so poor that Slim Jedidi, the Tunisian official, was subsequently suspended.

Most decisions were in Ghana’s favour, including the dismissal of Rennes’ Jonathan Pitroipa, Burkina Faso’s goalscorer against Togo. Pitroipa would have been suspended for the final, a major blow with Traore already out through injury, but CAF yesterday upheld his appeal.

The Burkinabe went down to a Mubarak Wakaso first half opener before Aristide Bance deservingly restored parity early in the second half. After dominating 120 minutes of action, the match had to be decided on penalties with Bakary Kone, Henry Traore and Bance scored from the spot against Christian Atsu and Harrison Afful for the Ghanaians.

Belgian coach Paul Put said: “It was a tough game but we deserved to win. I told my players at half time to continue the fight. We knew Ghana have a lot of offensive players and we needed to maintain our shape and position.
 
“I am happy with the win but I’m happier for the players and the people of Burkina Faso.”
 
It seems sweeter that the final has been reached at the expense of Ghana. It was in Ghana that Burkina Faso made their debut appearance at the flagship continental football event during the 1978.
 
After attaining independence from France in 1960, the Burkinabes had waited18years to cut their teeth at the continental championship in Ghana. Like a stranger in a new town, they were baptised and exited the competition without a point.
 
The Stallions had to wait for yet another 18 years to make their second appearance at the biennial event in 1996 in South Africa. Like their maiden appearance, they crashed out at the group phase win-less from a group that included Algeria, Sierra Leone and Zambia.
 
Two years later, the tournament was staged on their soil, and the team will achieve their best ever outing finishing fourth. Under the guidance of Philippe Troussier (White Witch Doctor), the West Africans bounced back from a lone goal loss to Cameroon in the opening match to march on to the medal zone. Alphonse Tchami scored the only goal of the match.
 
The Burkinabes qualified from their group together with Cameroon at the expense of Algeria and Guinea, before beating Tunisia 8-7 on penalties at the quarters. At the semis, they were undone by a brace from Egypt legend Hossam Hossam to settle for a playoff which they lost 4-1 on penalties to DR Congo.
 
Heroes were made out of the squad that included Seydou Traore, Abdoulaye Traore, Alassane Ouedraogo, Kassim Ouedraogo amongst others. The Stallions will make five appearances later at the tournament - 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010 and 2012; but failed to go past the first hurdle on each occasion.
 
Goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama, a member of the 1998 squad that placed fourth is only survivor in the current team.

Paul Put says he is looking forward to taking on the Super Eagles in Sunday's final. "They are a big team and people will expect them to win. But we are also a big team, and we will have our chances."

Captain Charles Kabore, who is one of the most experienced players in the squad, said that they had their coach to thank for their success. "When we arrived in this competition the only person who  believed in us was the coach, and he gave us our belief. 

While all the squad are based outside their own country, the bulk of them in Europe, few play in the big leagues. Aristide Bancé, who scored against Ghana, plays for Augsburg in the Bundesliga and half-a-dozen play in Ligue 1, including Charles Kaboré of Marseille. But others play in Ghana, Moldova and Qatar. The key figure is the man who has moulded this disparate group together, coach Paul Put.

He, though, is a controversial figure having begun coaching in Africa only after being banned for three years following a match-fixing scandal when he was coach of Belgian club Lierse.

Not that anyone partying in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou is concerned.

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