Burkina FasoThe Good So much was so good for Burkina Faso. From Alain Traore’s outrageous goals, to Jonathan Pitroipas’s silky dribbling. From Aristide Bance’s semi-final performance, to the Stallions finishing with the best defense in the Cup of Nations. But when pressed to select the single most impressive aspect of their performance, it has to be the team’s mental strength. Burkina Faso had been labeled ‘Dark Horses’ of previous tournaments, but never managed to muster up the psychology to get over the stumbling block that is the group stage. Credit must be accorded to Coach Paul Put for his stratagem. Put shored up a leaky defense and played to his team’s strengths. Reporters noticed that a fair chunk of training had been set aside for physical recovery. The Bad It was unlucky, but Alain Traore’s injury hamstrung the Burkinabe attack. Put was forced to unleash both Djakaridja Kone and Florent Rouamba, who are both physically monstrous, but creatively limited.
Moumouni Dagano. Much was expected from the country’s record scorer and he failed to deliver. Perhaps father time had finally caught up to the big man who was participating in his sixth Cup of Nations. Aristide Bance ended up overshadowing Dagano as the former captain was relegated to a substitute’s role.
Participation. It has been a tantalizing 31 years since Ethiopia had last taken part in a Cup of Nations and so they didn’t take this one for granted. The Walya Antelopes brought the largest number of away supporters and created their own party atmosphere. Bishaw’s men responded on the pitch.
Their first match against the defending champions might have been the match of the tournament. Zambia took an early lead, but Ethiopia kept threatening until they found an equalizer via Adane Girma. Ethiopians all over the world rejoiced and raised their already high expectations.
Unfortunately for Ethiopia, those expectations came crashing down. An obvious lack of experience and discipline saw them lose heavily to both finalists.
The goalkeeping was atrocious. Sisay Bancha was the pre-tournament favourite between the sticks, but it was his opposite Jamel Tassew who played vs. Zambia. Tassew was sent off in the opening match after violently kicking Chisamba Lungu. Unexpectedly, Zerihun Tadele put on his gloves as his replacement and the results weren’t much better. Ethiopia lost 4-0 to Burkina Faso. In the final match Sisay Bancha finally got his opportunity to impress but was also sent off as Nigeria strolled to a comfortable win.
The defence. Despite the premature exit, the fact that they went out unbeaten was largely thanks to their defence, namely the performances of Stoppila Sunzu and Kennedy Mweene. The former was the finest pound-for-pound defender at the Cup of Nations performances-wise while the latter was arguably the most complete keeper at the tournament; aerially commanding and showing terrific distribution to locate wingers Chisamba Lungu and Rainford Kalaba upfield, not to mention saving two penalty kicks and converting an excellent penalty kick into the top corner to level against Nigeria.
The copper-headed bullets becoming the cotton-headed bullets. In the Ethiopia match, for instance, they had 18 shots off target, failing to win the game despite playing against 10 men for much of it. Last year, Zambia thrived by sitting deep, absorbing pleasure and rapidly transitioning the ball to Emmanuel Mayuka. But with Zambia no longer an unknown quantity, the onus was on the Chipolopolo to take the game to the opposition – a tactical change that became extremely arduous considering they aren’t a patient side on the ball (they won last year’s Cup of Nations with an average possession of 23%) and their out-of-form attackers. The fiery captain Christopher Katongo, the BBC African Footballer of the Year, was particularly disappointing, so much so that he was dropped to the bench.
Becoming the first defending champions to exit in the group stages since Algeria at the 1996 Afcon. Zambia came into the tournament having lost to the likes of Sudan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and Angola, and they continued their indifferent form.
They were ultimately victorious. Nigeria came into the tournament with several questions about their personnel and frame of mind. Could their young team – with an average age of 23 – cope with the duress of a nation that doesn’t accept being second best? Will their attacking trio click? More importantly, will they click as a team? In the heat of the tournament, will there be unification or disintegration?
The opening three games didn’t dispel the signs of disunity with several reports leaking out of unhappiness in the camp. But the watershed moment came in their 2-1 quarter-final win over the Ivory Coast. Injected with the belief that if they can beat the Ivory Coast, they can beat anyone, there was suddenly a growing sense of unity and inner cohesion; the inner cohesion that propelled them to mutilate Mali and then beat Burkina Faso, and the unity that made captain Joseph Yobo, a stalwart in the Nigerian set-up for the past decade or so, state that he hadn’t played with more unified Super Eagles.
Whilst John Obi Mike was, in my opinion, the player of the tournament, they couldn’t have done it without the confidence that emitted from coach Stephen Keshi. The Big Boss had the placidness of a man with a prescient awareness of what was about to unfold even before the feel-good hit of the quarter-final. What’s more, he may have been setting himself up for a spectacular failure with his denouncement of mediocre white coaches, especially as he had to face Patrice Carteron’s Mali and Paul Put’s Burkina Faso, but he sure talked the talk and walked the walk.
The maladministration that saw Keshi hand in his resignation in the wake of their victory. Although divine intervention from the powers that be extinguished the burning fire, there were reports that Keshi had been sacked after the win over Ethiopia. Either way, Keshi’s feathers must have been ruffled for him to hand in the resignation so soon after the final – when will African football federations learn?