Burkina Faso have a track record of upsetting the applecart at the Africa Cup of Nations, but can they banish memories of their near miss against Nigeria over the next six days?
Tuesday’s semi-final against Senegal represents the fourth time the Stallions have reached the final four of the Nations Cup, falling at this stage in both 1998 on home soil and in Gabon in 2017.
Like their opponents on Tuesday, they’ve never won the big one, and also like the Teranga Lions, they know only too well the heartbreak of falling short at the final hurdle.
Unlike in 1998, when they had some measure of home advantage, they were outsiders in 2013, when they upset some of Africa’s heavyweights en route to the final.
They held both Nigeria and Zambia in the group stage—ensuring the reigning champions’ elimination following a 0-0 draw in Nelspruit—and then proceeded to oust Togo after extra time in the quarter-final.
The semi pitted them against a Ghana team desperate to renew hostilities with the Super Eagles, who had qualified for the final earlier in the day, but the Black Stars—as had been the case against Zambia in 2012—were unable to make their superiority tell in the scoreline.
Aristide Bance cancelled out Wakaso Mubarak’s 13th-minute penalty, and the Stallions held their nerve in extra time before taking control of the subsequent penalty shootout when Isaac Vorsah missed the Black Stars’ opening spot kick.
Paul Koulibaly’s penalty miss opened the door for Ghana to take the initiative, but misses from Emmanuel Clotty and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu sent the Stallions through to a Johannesburg final against the Super Eagles.
Like in the opening group-stage game between the two teams, Nigeria took the lead through the inspired Sunday Mba, but whereas Alain Traore had summoned a 94th-minute equaliser at the start of the tournament, there was to be no response from a Burkina Faso side whose race was run.
They may have fallen just short, but this side would go down in history as one of Africa’s collectives; a potpourri of journeymen, nomads, has-beens, never-quite-weres, and promising talent who were taking their first steps in the tournament.
Outstanding centre-back Bakary Kone of Olympique Lyonnais and Olympique de Marseille’s Charles Kabore were genuine stars, but the likes of Florent Rouamba (Sheriff Tiraspol), Paul Koulibaly (Dinamo Bucharest), Wilfried Sanou (Kyoto Sanga), Prejuce Nakoulma (Gornik Zabrze) won over admirers with their tenacity, passion and robustness
Jonathan Pitroipa of Stade Rennais won the Player of the Tournament award, while FC Lorient’s Alain Traore also contributed manfully alongside him.
The pair were only 26 and 24 respectively in 2013, but failed to build on their run to the final, with unfulfilled club careers coming alongside Burkina Faso’s failure to reach the 2014 World Cup and their miserable showing at the 2015 Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea.
Bance, who was present for the semi-final run in 2017, deserves a category all of his own as far as legendary status is concerned.
While the grand old names may have largely departed the scene, the new blood deserve respect of their own after battling through to the final four once again, particularly considering the Coup d’Etat that’s taking place back home.
“Burkina Faso aren’t the same team,” Senegal head coach Aliou Cisse told GOAL. “Traore, Bance, Kabore aren’t there, but the young ones are here, and they’re playing with insouciance.
“The instability in the country is going on, but the boys are working hard for the flag.
“It’s never easy against Burkina Faso. In the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup we drew 0-0 at ours and then 2-2 [away], it shows how hard it is to play against them.”
Burkina Faso have already overcome various obstacles on their way to the semi once again, from their alleged ‘scandalous’ treatment with the coronavirus testing before the opener against Cameroon and then the late setback against Gabon in the Round of 16.
Next up they dispatched Tunisia, vanquishers over Nigeria, and will be desperate to bad their bad memories against the Super Eagles—and Sunday Mba—in the week to come.