Nigeria wary of Burkina Faso threat
Nigeria are one win away from ending a 19-year wait to reclaim the African Nations Cup but the favourites are wary of the threat posed by surprise finalists Burkina Faso in today’s showdown at Soccer City (kick-off 19.00).
When they drew 1-1 in their opening Group C match 18 days ago there was little to indicate that the two west African nations would meet again in the final.
However, both teams have shown grit, determination and a winning mentality that promises an excellent finale to the three-week long tournament in front of a sell-out crowd.
Nigeria appear to hold most of the keys to success having no real injury worries apart from some concerns over forward Victor Moses who has been outstanding but picked up another niggling problem in Wednesday’s 4-1 defeat of Mali in the semi-final.
In contrast, Burkina Faso will have to do without Alain Traore, who scored three goals at the start of the tournament but has missed out on the knockout rounds because of injury.
They might also be missing defender Mohamed Koffi who went off injured in the 3-2 penalty shoot-out victory over Ghana in their semi-final on Wednesday.
However, Burkina Faso will have one of their most effective and important players, Jonathan Pitroipa, available after his controversial dismissal against Ghana was rescinded by the CAF on Friday.
The two teams, who both like to go forward quickly and play to their attacking strengths, have reached the final in contrasting style with Nigeria in impressive form to beat favourites Ivory Coast 2-1 in the quarter-finals before producing an even better performance to rout Mali in the semi-finals.
Burkina Faso had to battle to a 1-0 extra-time victory over Togo in their quarter-final and then played for another two hours without breaking the deadlock against Ghana in a match that finished 1-1 and went their way on penalties.
Their never-say-die spirit and determination could test Nigeria to the full this evening if the Stallions’ defence can keep at bay a Super Eagles attack which was rampant against Mali, hitting three goals in a 20-minute first half blitz.
However, Burkina Faso possess an astonishing team spirit and determination personified by the indefatigable Aristides Bance, one of the stand-out players at the tournament, and not just because of his unique dyed-blond hairstyle.
The powerfully-built forward, who plays in Germany for Augsburg, had some indifferent early games but never stopped running, working and shooting against Ghana.
If he is on that sort of form again, the Nigeria defence will have a real battle on their hands.
The match is also naturally highly significant for the two coaches, who could hardly be cut from more different cloth.
Burkina Faso coach, Belgian Paul Put, is seeking something of a personal redemption after he was banned for life in Belgium after being involved in a match-fixing scandal in 2007.
His opposite number Stephen Keshi will write his name in the record books if he leads Nigeria to a third African title.
Keshi captained the Super Eagles to their last title in 1994 and could become only the second man in the 56-year history of the tournament to win it as player and coach.
Last five winners
2004 - Tunisia
2006 - Egypt
2008 - Egypt
2010 - Egypt
2012 - Zambia