Burkina Fourso top group as Nigeria and Zambia miss vital Chansas

by James Bennett and Maher Mezahi

ZAMBIA 1-1 NIGERIA

Changes in Tactics, Personnel

Herve Renard felt compelled to make changes following Zambia’s deflating draw with the Walyas of Ethiopia. Renard opted to drop Hichani Himoonde who struggled to contain the likes of Said and Girma and deployed a 3-5-2.

Keshi also instituted a few changes to his squad. Victor Moses got his first taste of a Cup of Nations encounter, as he started on the Super Eagles’ left-wing. The suspended Joseph Yobo was relegated to the tribunes which forced Oboabona to pinch in and Onazi to assume a secondary position as fullback.

Zambia’s 3-5-2 facilitated the clever interplay we expected from the Chipolopolo in midfield. Especially suited to the novel shape was one Emmanuel Mayuka, who explored the vacated space, fashioned by wingers Lungu and Mbola. The former was markedly lively in the first half as he stretched Elderson, then cut in to poke incisive passes through the lines.

Though Renard’s change brought success in midfield and attack, the 3-5-2 had unforeseen defensive consequences. The imperious Stoppila Sunzu marshalled matters in the middle of defense, but he was flanked by the smaller Joseph Musonda and Davies Nkausu. The latter two particularly struggled against the bullish Emenike who used his strength to manoeuvre himself into dangerous positions.

Nigeria’s only first half threat came via Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses who, not unlike Mayuka, roamed in the gaps behind Lungu and Mbola. In the 25th minute, Musa latched onto a splitting pass and turned Nkausu, who caught the CSKA frontman with a trailing leg. A clear penalty. Including today’s Zambia had conceded 4 penalties in their last 4 matches in the Cup of Nations. Asamoah Gyan, Didier Drogba, Saladin Said and now John Obi Mikel assumed responsibility for those penalty kicks. But each of those talents missed with Kennedy Mweene as their opposite.

Following Mweene’s save, the match petered into half-time as yet another draw in this tight Cup of Nations. But Nigeria emerged a different squad.

Second half, better Emenike

Emmanuel Emenike in particular embodied the spirit of a young Yakubu as he bullied Nkausu and Musonda time after time. The breakthrough came in the 57th minute as Obi Mikel atoned for his penalty mishap by dispossessing the hitherto excellent Lungu and slipping in Emenike. Nigeria’s number 9 only needed a few touches before blasting it passed Mweene. 1-0 Nigeria.

Emenike continued his domination of Zambia’s peripheral fullbacks as the Copper Bullets couldn’t seem to shake out of their slumber. With 10 minutes remaining, Zambia benefitted from a wide stroke of luck. Egyptian referee Gehad Grisha awarded a dubious penalty to Emmanuel Mayuka who had tangled arms with Onazi. It took Zambian keeper Kennedy Mweene 30 seconds to trudge across the pitch, 15 seconds to shoot opposing goalkeeper a death stare, but just a second of a wondrous strike to bring Zambia back into the fold.

The bereaved Nigerians moaned about the decision, and justifiably so. Emenike was booked for dissent after seeing all of his hard work undone by a short toot of the whistle.

Both teams pushed for a winner in what remained of the match. Keshi brought on Ike Uche and Ideye Brown, Renard introduced Mbesuma and M. Mulenga. Both sets of substitutions were in vain as the African Cup of Nations awarded us yet another draw.

Man of the Match: Kennedy Mweene

The unyielding shot-stopper is surely among Africa’s elite? Penalty takers face an automatic psychological disadvantage when the intimidating, cornrowed keeper faces them. Encapsulated the spirit of a certain Jose Luis Chilavert as his sang-froid easily dispatched a perfect kick at such an important junction of the match.

BURKINA FASO 4-0 ETHIOPIA

Starting Line-ups

Burkina Faso may be emerging as one of the dark horses for this tournament after this one. After showing great character to beat the Central African Republic in the play-offs and to earn a point against Nigeria in their first match of the tournament, a competitive Ethiopian side was brushed aside here, even after being reduced to 10 men. Granted, Ethiopia lost two key players in injury in the first half, but the Stallions gave one of the best team performances of this year’s Cup of Nations so far, and Alain Traore gave arguably the best individual performance of the tournament.

One way traffic after Girma leaves the fray

Burkina Faso certainly benefited from the return of two key players. Traore, who was influential after coming on as a substitute against Nigeria, returned to the starting line-up in place of Moumouni Dagano, while Marseille’s Charles Kabore also came in after serving his suspension. Ethiopia, meanwhile, introduced Addis Hintsa who had impressed after coming on in the second half against Zambia, and captain Degu Debebe returned in defence.

Ethiopia will regret not taking their big chance, which could have seen them take a game-changing early lead. Saladin Said, again leading the attack, set up Asrat Megersa, but the midfielder could only sweep the ball onto the post. They will regret it not only because it could have put them in the lead, but particularly because it would have put them in the lead before the withdrawal of Adane Girma, who scored the team’s only goal against Zambia. The playmaker trudged off after just 8 minutes, tears in his eyes – this may be the last we see of him at this tournament.

After that, Burkinabe dominance – Ethiopia just couldn’t stem the tide until the final whistle. Wilfried Sanou, in for Hugues-Wilfried Dah in a fluid front 4, had a goal correctly disallowed for offside as Tadele spilled a shot in front of him, while moments later Ethiopian centre-back Hailu had to clear a dangerous cross from the right. Traore and Aristide Bance in particular were causing real problems, while Kabore was running the show deeper in midfield.

Eventually they got the goal they deserved. A cross from the left was cleared off the line, but only as far as Traore just outside the box, and he wasted no time in thumping the ball into the net.

The final 10 minutes of the half only added to Ethiopian misery as Megersa departed injured, replaced by Yared Zenabu. They had looked good initially, but after the loss of Girma, they lost control of the game. Burkina Faso looked on target for their first Afcon win on foreign soil.

Traore and Pitroipa run riot despite Soulama’s howler

The second half started better for Ethiopia. First, they won an early free kick, which Said at least got on target, if not past keeper Abdoulaye Soulama. But worse was to come for the Burkinabe keeper. First, while controlling with his feet, he tried to dummy Bekele, and nearly failed. Then, an even more catastrophic mistake – he reached out to catch the ball while stood on the edge of the area. After Ghana’s Dauda got away with handling outside the area yesterday, this time the referee did not give him a second chance, and sent him off – a third red card in 4 matches in Group C. But the resulting free kick went straight into the hands of new keeper Daouda Diakite.

Burkina Faso sacrificed two attackers after the red card, taking off Sanou and Bance, with Florent Rouamba coming into the midfield at the same time as Diakite. But any thoughts that they were going to allow Ethiopia back into this one after the red card were extinguished 10 minutes later. After a scrappy period in the game, a classy backheel by Jonathan Pitroipa gave Traore the ball 30 yards out, and with the outside of his left foot, he blasted a swerving shot past the diving Tadele. With that, arguably the best goal of the tournament so far, this 24 year old has announced himself on the big stage – it’s going to be difficult to ignore his presence from now on.

Within 5 minutes, it was game over, as Djakaridja Kone was played in by Pitroipa and slid the ball under Tadele. It was all too easy, and this being a team with only 10 men. Ethiopia, having impressed with their resolve after going down to 10 against Zambia, were now falling apart, their confidence having gone the same way as Girma and Megersa. Pitroipa, having set up two goals, eventually got his own deep into stoppage time – a high defensive line allowed the winger in, supplied by a sublime ball from substitute Benjamin Balima.

A 4-0 thumping is harsh on Ethiopia from an effort perspective, but the Burkinabe fans will be delighted – after waiting so long for an Afcon win, it has arrived at last in the best possible way. With Zambia out of form, they have every chance of clinching the point they need to potentially knock the holders out of the Cup of Nations.

Man of the Match: Alain Traore

Despite impressive performances from Kabore, Djakaridja Kone and Pitroipa, only one name is going to be on everyone’s lips after this one. After 2 more goals here, taking his running total to 4 in his last 3 competitive appearances, Traore is quickly emerging as the star of the group stage so far. While Burkina Faso have one match to go before potential progression to the quarter-finals for the first time since they made the semi-finals on home soil in 1998, he has at least put the Stallions back into the discussion circles of football fans. Maybe I’m exaggerating and he only looks good because everyone else has lacked attacking initiative, but I like what I’ve seen, and at only 24, some of Europe’s top clubs may be casting a keen eye over his performances in the rest of the tournament.

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