8 February 2013
The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations final is a classic tale of the underdog taking on a former powerhouse that is trying to find its way back to the top. Burkina Faso, ranked only 92nd in the Fifa world rankings, face Nigeria, a team with star names that is seeking to live up to the potential of its pieces, for the title. They meet the National Stadium in Johannesburg on Sunday.
It’s worth remembering that there is also more on the line than being crowned the champions of Africa. The winner of the game will also represent Africa in the Fifa Confederations Cup in Brazil later this year.
There is a strong Nigerian community in South Africa and the Super Eagles are sure to have good support on Sunday, but South Africans love an underdog and Burkina Faso fits the bill. The Stallions have entertained and surprised and as result of that will have plenty of support in the final.
To get to the final, Burkina Faso shocked Ghana in the semi-finals, winning a match from the 3-1 penalty spot that they should have won earlier.
Since that game, referee Slim Jedidi has been banned for a shocking performance. It included handing Stallions’ star Jonatha Pitroipa a second yellow card, which meant Pitroipa’s dismissal, instead of awarding the Burkinabe a penalty. Jedidi has since admitted he got the decision wrong, so Pitroipa’s red card is likely to be rescinded and he should be able to take his place in the title-deciding contest.
Nigeria were stunningly impressive in their semi-final demolition of Mali, who are ranked 25th by Fifa and third on the African continent. They raced into a 3-0 half-time lead and led 4-0 after an hour before settling for a thumping 4-1 victory.
The Nigerians have always possessed fine individual stars, but they have at times struggled to put it all together as a team. Especially in their last two games, the win over Mali and a 2-1 defeat of Cote d’Ivoire, they have looked a complete team, united in their goal and playing for one another. Burkina Faso have appeared to be on the same page since their first match.
‘We have to have fun’
Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi told Fifa.com that he has got the best out of his players by ensuring there is enjoyment in the game. “We need discipline on and off the field. And we also have to have fun. Any job you do, if don’t have fun doing it, you won’t give a hundred percent. That was the way I played when I was a player, that is what I want to see as a coach. Fun and also discipline, that’s the key.”
The teams met earlier in the tournament in a Group C clash and shared a 1-1 draw, with Emmanuel Emenike scoring for the Super Eagles after 23 minutes and Alain Traore netting for Burkina Faso in the fourth minute of additional time. Sadly for the Burkinabe and the tournament, Traore has since suffered an injury and returned to his club in France for treatment.
He is a big loss, but Burkina Faso have remained an exciting team on the attack. They’ve got pace and they utilise it well. Pitroipa is one of the keys to their offense. He has teamed up well with Prejuce Nakoulma, while the blonde-haired Aristide Bance was a star performer in the semi-finals and the scorer of the Stallions’ goal in regulation time.
Pace and skill
They’ve been great down the flanks. So, too, have the Super Eagles prospered out wide, where they have tons of pace and skill. They totally tore Mali apart down the right in their semi-final victory and will no doubt try to take on Burkina Faso in the same way. Players like Emenike, Brown Ideye, Victor Moses and Sunday Mba have shone, and they will likely light up the title-decider.
Given the attractive, attacking style of football both teams have exhibited so far in the tournament, one expects a free-flowing, exciting final.
While the Burkinabe’s previous best result was fourth when they hosted the tournament in 1998, Nigeria have previously been crowned African champions, although their two titles are a light return for a nation with such footballing riches. They’re seeking their first title since 1994.
The most important match in their history
For Burkina Faso, the match is probably the most important in the history of the country. Coach Paul Put is determined that his players will be able to express themselves and not be overawed by the occasion and the opposition. “I know that Nigeria are a big side, but we are also a big team and we certainly do not need to hide,” he told Fifa.com.
“We will have our chances in the game. Also, surprises are always there. Maybe this time is our time.”
The Orange Africa Cup of Nations’ final kicks off at 20:30.
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