By Sam Crocker
Bance’s presence lights up a tense quarter-final
All he had to do was get up off the bench and take off his training tracksuit. That’s when people knew, as the stadium decibels ramped up, and social media went off the hook pointing out an imminent arrival on the pitch. 10 minutes later, Burkina Faso have gone from staring extra-time in the face to the pure elation of knowing they’re in the semi-finals.
The man who made the difference was Aristide Bance. This weird, ungainly figure with peroxide hair and a colossal cult following came onto the pitch and caused a chain reaction of events that led to Burkina Faso winning the game. The crowd ramped up the pressure on Tunisia. His first touch – a flick on the edge of the box – led to a free-kick. The free-kick led to him driving the ball into the bottom-right corner to put Burkina Faso ahead. This led to Tunisia committing far too many players forward for a corner, and Prejuce Nakoulma being presenting with Aymen Mathlouthi to beat on the halfway line and a gaping goal to slot the ball into.
Bance will take the headlines, but it was a deserved victory for this Burkina Faso side. Nullifying Tunisia’s aerial attack from either wing, they played the counter attack brilliantly, directly running at the rabble of Tunisian defenders placed in front of them. Bertrand Traore and Nakoulma led from the front, well supported by Charles Kabore behind, as the lack of Jonathan Pitroipa proved little of an issue. Creating the best chances prior to the Bance moment of ignition, it was a deserved victory for The Stallions.
Tunisia fail to build on group stage optimism
After making a start in deconstructing the negative stereotype they had built for themselves over the last few years as this negative, sneering side who became the neutral’s villains of the tournament, this slightly shinier, more positive Tunisia side failed to capitalise on this new found admiration with an impotent performance.
Having always historically somehow found a way to score goals, logically this would be the sort of game they would just get through; they would chip away at Burkina Faso and bundle the ball into the back of the net through sheer force of will. Not today. Having seen such enlightening performances from Youssef Msakni and Naim Sliti before today, they seemed largely limited to just chucking the ball up in the area to Taha Yassine Khenissi from wide areas, who proved to be less effective than his counterpart Ahmed Akaichi. With Wahbi Khazri offering little going through the middle and their defence struggling to keep up with the forceful dribbling of the Burkinabe attack, they eventually wilted into the inevitable – seeming to have lost the power of everyone hating them to drive them onwards.
Burkina Faso showing glimpses of that incredible 2013 run to the final
AFCON 2013 in South Africa put Burkina Faso on the map football-wise. The neutral’s favourite due to the way played counter-attacking football in this delightful but functional way, Jonathan Pitroipa in particular proving to be almost unplayable at points, you just get the feeling they have found this rhythm again after a couple of years of confusion and over-expectation.
In some ways, that 2013 run was quite damaging. After almost qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as well, suddenly they were this big side on the continent, having previously benefitted from being nobodies. A weak AFCON 2015 followed, subsequently lowering expectations of themselves of what they can do in this tournament, allowing them to feed off that slightly underdog energy and propel them forward.
Not the most free-flowing at times in the group stage, they looked electric today. Watching Bertrand Traore and Prejuce Nakoulma in full flow is one of African football’s great joys, and they fact they can do it without their talisman Pitroipa is an excellent sign. Backed up by the quarterback style distribution of Charles Kabore and a backline which seems to have found its feet, there are a number of similarities about the way this team plays to past events.
However, with the prospect of either Morocco or Egypt in the semi-final, the next stage will not be so simple. Compact and awkward, neither side will make it easy for their frontline to flow, as two teams that are well drilled in the game of disruption. But to see this Burkina Faso side playing as it is is a glorious sight, and they’ll have the support of everyone to see it continue as long into the tournament as possible.