By Matt Carter
Having seen their trophy tilt hit a stumbling block on Saturday evening in the form of Gabon, Burkina Faso enter their contest with hosts Equatorial Guinea possessing only minimal room for manoeuvre.
In reality that date with Gabon was always likely to be the Stallions most arduous group stage assignment, nonetheless anything other than victory on Tuesday night would leave the quarter-final equation hazardously outside of the Burkinabe’s hands.
In many people’s eyes, by holding Congo in the tournament’s curtain raiser Equatorial Guinea – ranked a lowly 118th and entering the tournament off the back of largely non-existent preparation – have already belittled expectations. It could be argued the National Thunder were unfortunate not to leave with the full allocation of points, accounting that Emilio Nsue’s second half strike being wrongly ruled out denied them a potentially pivotal 2-0 advantage.
In spite of the encouraging signs brought about by that draw, the manner in which Equatorial Guinea faded badly through the game’s final furlongs, against a relatively regimented Congo, will be of substantial worry for coach Esteban Becker.
The vibrant offensive resources of both Burkina Faso and Gabon are likely to provide an altogether more arduous workout. With that in mind, it is difficult to envisage the hosts repelling the Stallions on Tuesday night – even if they misfire in similar fashion to that witnessed against Gabon.
Paul Put’s side have always lacked a degree of clinical edge in front of goal, however defeat to an opportunistic Gabon saw them squander an entire host of chances. From a positive perspective, Put will take heart that the Stallions clearly haven’t lost any of their attacking shape since a run to the final two years ago, whilst a date with the defensively suspect hosts appears the ideal opportunity for Alain Traore, Jonathan Pitroipa and co to rediscover an element of composure.
The defeat to Gabon however presented an arguably more pressing concern, that being that Burkina Faso were uncharacteristically suspect defensively, although Equatorial Guinea are unlikely to expose such a potential flaw it is a weakness that Burkina Faso can ill-afford as the tournament advances.
It’s difficult to not envisage Burkina Faso simply possessing too much attacking verve for an Equatorial Guinea side whose qualification aspirations have already arguably taken a terminal blow following their failure to complete victory over Congo.
That said, being overriding favourites represents somewhat of an alien situation for the Stallions whilst at the same time Equatorial Guinea have proven, both against Congo and throughout their last stint as hosts back in 2012, that roared on by their own vociferous supporters the National Thunder are capable of springing a surprise.