Reputation versus rookies

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Nigeria v Burkina Faso AFCON group stageGettyImagesNigeria took the lead in the group-stage match but were pegged back by a late Burkina Faso equaliser

It's reputation against rookies in the African Nations Cup final, with Nigeria looking to add a third trophy to their cabinet and Burkina Faso hoping to become title holders for the first time. Also at stake is a spot in this year's Confederations Cup in Brazil.

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The match is set up as a clash between the Nigerian forwards and the Burkinabe backs. Nigeria have scored ten goals in the competition and conceded four while Burkina Faso have netted seven and let in just two. It's also a contest of big names against hopefuls and of a foreign coach against a local one. Here’s to expect in the final:

The venue:

One of the continent's most atmospheric arenas will play host to the match. Soccer City (renamed the National Stadium for this tournament) was the scene of a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert last weekend and there were concerns of the state of the pitch.

It should not trouble Burkina Faso, who played all five of their matches on a sandy surface in Nelspruit and appear in Johannesburg for the first time. Nigeria were also based in Nelspruit but have since been to Rustenburg and Durban as well.

Stadium attendances have been criticised throughout the competition but the naysayers will be surprised to learn that this has been the best attended tournament in history. The initial target was to sell half a million tickets overall, but 800,000 have been bought in the three weeks the tournament has been played. Like the opening match, the final is a sell-out.

Route to the final:

Both teams came out of Group C and there was nothing to separate them in their pool match. Nigeria took the lead through Emmanuel Emenike in the 23rd minute but Burkina Faso stunned them with a last-minute equaliser when Alain Troare ensured the Stallions left with a point.

They both went on to draw with Zambia and beat Ethiopia to advance out of the group. Nigeria’s was a 1-1 draw in a match that they dominated while Burkina Faso held Zambia at bay and kept a clean sheet in one of the competitions lamentable goalless encounters. While Nigeria beat Ethiopia 2-0, both goals coming from penalties, Burkina imposed themselves on the East African side with a 4-0 drubbing.

Burkina Faso:

By virtue of a better goal difference, Burkina Faso topped the group. They were drawn against Togo in what was the least high-profile of the quarter-finals and needed extra-time to see Burkina Faso advance. The goal came after 105 minutes through Pitroipa and put Burkina Faso into their second semi-final.

A massive test came when Burkina Faso met Ghana in the final four. They came up against a stellar side and a dodgy referee, who allowed a number of big decisions to go Ghana’s way. A 13th-minute penalty converted by Mubarak Wakaso was the first goal Burkina Faso conceded since their opener and was cancelled when Aristide Bance scored for Burkina Faso on the hour. After playing a second, consecutive 120-minute match, it was down to a spotkick separator and Ghana sent two of their five wide while one was saved. Burkina Faso’s three on target gave them their best finish in the tournament ever.

Nigeria:

Still a work in progress, Nigeria had scored only twice as many goals as they conceded in the group stage and finished runners-up. Their quarter-final clash was talked about as a match worthy of a final against the Ivory Coast. The Super Eagles defied expectation and beat the Elephants with locally-based player Sunday Mba the hero with a superb winner in the 78th minute.

Another marquee clash followed in the semis with youthful Nigeria up against a serious and mature Malian group. The young Super Eagles were all over the Eagles and had a 3-0 lead by half-time. Emenike was one of the goal-scorers, underlining his importance to the Nigerian cause. Ahmed Musa made it 4-0 before Mali pulled one back but Nigeria’s dominance was obvious and earned them a well-deserved seventh, final spot.

Team news:

Burkina Faso:

Pitriopa will play for Burkina Faso after his red card from the semi-finals was rescinded. That will be a big boost considering that they are without Alain Traore, who was ruled out in the group stages. Mohammed Koffi remains a doubt, though. Burkina Faso’s preparation was less than ideal - a lengthy delay in travel to Johannesburg meant they could not get the training time they wanted.

Nigeria:

Two injury concerns in Victor Moses and Emenike are dominating headlines. Both did not train on Thursday and a decision will be taken on their availability shortly before kick-off. Captain Joseph Yobo is likely to start from the bench with Vincent Enyeama skippering the side on-field at first.

Quotes:

Burkina Faso coach Paul Put:

“There were a lot of doubters when I first arrived in Ouagadougou to take up my post. Over the years I have gained experience of working in Africa. I know what I am capable of, how to approach people, how to motivate, how to plan tactics. It is very important to give players confidence and a belief in what they are doing. It is also vital to remember the ordinary man in the street in Burkina Faso. Many are very poor and do not have much to look forward to apart from football. When their country is playing well, it makes their troubles more bearable.”

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi:

“There is talent, but we need a strong mentality and character. We are just growing. We are still adding and subtracting. If I see new players who would add quality to the team, I would invite them. But I do not know if after the final on Sunday, I would still be in charge of the building process. But the point is that there is talent, the mentality is strong and things are coming up gradually. My goal is to put smiles on the faces of Nigerians.”

Mali v Ghana

In a repeat of last year’s third-place play-off, Mali beat Ghana to again finish with the bronze medal. The victory came in resounding fashion with Seydou Keita’s men winning 3-1. Mamadou Samassa put Mali in front with a 21st-minute header, and Keita himself, who ended as Man of the Match, doubled the lead just after half-time.

Ghana’s Wakaso had a chance to pull one back from the penalty spot but, for the first time in the competition, spilled his spot kick over. Kwadwo Asamoah did put Ghana on the scoresheet with a long-range effort in the 82nd minute and Ghana took that as a sign to push for the second goal. Mali caught them on the counter with Sigamary Diarra scoring in injury time.

For both teams, the end result will be something of a disappointment. Although Ghana brought a young side, they were expected to go further and Keita was desperate to win silverware in what could be his last continental championship and at a time of great difficulty for the people in his home country.

Kwesi Appiah said he believed the “players performed well” and that, “given further opportunities”, the team will progress. Patrice Carteron was “proud” of the team and thinks people at home will be happy. Keita hinted that players would object to Carteron being fired after the event.

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