Nigeria vs Burkina Faso: Another 'Might' vs 'Minnow' Final in the African Cup of Nations
Nigeria may be a traditional power in African football, but the Super Eagles surely won't let the trappings of that reputation minimize the task at hand when they meet unheralded Burkina Faso on Sat 9 Feb for the continent's 2013 Cup of Nations title.
The Stallions may be neophytes to the limelight of international championship play, but they left no doubt in anyone's minds that they're as dangerous a contender as Nigeria could meet this year. The two sides drew 1-1 in pool play on 21 Jan, and Burkina Faso ultimately finished first in the group due to a better goal differential.
Pre-tourney favorite Ivory Coast did what they have always done of latte, entering with a wealth of talent and exiting with a dearth of goals. The Elephants were dispatched in the quarter-finals by Nigeria, whose narrow 2-1 victory belied the Super Eagles' dominance over Didier Drogba and his dejected teammates throughout the match.
It is with that form that Nigeria charged into their semi-final encounter with Mali and served notice from the start that there could be no doubt as to the outcome. Mali plays a physical game, and in defeating them, 4-1, the Super Eagles got a further taste of things to come in the final. The Stallions take a back seat to no one in African when it comes to hard play.
Winning Group C was a distinct advantage for Burkina Faso, as it allowed them to remain in Nelspruit -- the site of all the pool matches -- where the rain-soached pitch Mbombela Stadium was in diabolical condition. The Stallions were acclimated to it, which gave them an advantage over a Ghanian side with better technical skills and well-founded title aspirations of its own.
In a match plagued by several questionable calls, Burkina Faso had their surprisingly superior run of play against the Black Stars neutralized by the brunt of Tunisian referee Slim Jdidi's dubious decisions. He awarded a soft penalty to Ghana, which gave them their goal. They had a certain goal disallowed on Prejuce Nakoulma’s craftily curved shot as Jdidi whistled him for a foul in the process. Jdidi then refused an evident penalty on Jonathan Pitroipa, being the only human on hand who saw a hard tackle as a dive; the resultant yellow card was Pitroipa's second, dealing a serious blow to the Stallions' selection for the final.
That they were selecting at all is a result of their 3-2 advantage in the shootout. Fate, it seems, this time favored the fittest. Bance had the best scoring opportunites in regulation, and it was his conversion in the shootout that served to be the winner. However, this only became a fact after keeper Douda Diakite's brilliant save on Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu sent Burkina Faso into their first international championship match of any kind.
So now it's a rematch with the mighty Nigerians. Considering the Stallions' form at the moment, for them, it's more like unfinished business.