For past few weeks Burkina Faso’s fighting spirit had won rave reviews from AFCON fans. The Burkinabe, who had finished bottom of their group last year upset all pre tournament predictions on their way to the final and they were bolstered during the build-up to the final by some good news. Alain Traore their top scorer was placed in reserve bench despite his injury which was expected to rule him out for the tournament and star man Jonathan Pitroipa was also cleared to play in final. To add to their happiness was the fact that Nigeria’s leading scorer Emmanuel Emenike would be missing from the final. Despite the encouraging build-up Burkina Faso looked weighed down by the enormity of the occasion in the final as Nigeria dominated possession for most of the second half. It was not a big surprise when Sunday Mba scored a beautiful goal just before half-time to put the Super Eagles 1-0 up.
Chances were few and far between in the second half. Nigeria, as expected became more defensive while Burkina Faso struggled to break their opponent’s back-line. The condition of the pitch also deteriorated steadily as the match progressed with both teams struggling to string passes. Staying true to the recent trend the final of AFCON 2013 also didn’t see a lot of goals and in the end the final was quiet a subdued affair – quiet different from the breath taking semi-finals.
The Super Eagles may well have turned a corner with AFCON 2013. This was their first appearance in final since 2000, after failing in semi-final four times in between. This is a pretty young Nigerian team with only two players, one of them goal-keeper Enyeama, being over 30 and most of the squad are actually below 25 years. Stephen Keshi ensured an inordinate amount of criticism before AFCON started but has steered the team marvelously in the tournament. Keshi has experience – as a player he captained Nigeria’s memorable 1994 World Cup team (curiously, he was dropped as a captain when Nigeria won AFCON in 1994) and has coached Togo to an unlikely World Cup berth six years ago. Nigerian football can do with some stability now and Keshi seems just the right person for the job.
Six years ago Paul Put was handed a three year ban by Belgian FA for his involvement in a match fixing scandal and few would have expected him to deliver the greatest hour for Burkinabe football in 2013. Put’s primary target at start of the tournament was to achieve more than four points, Burkina Faso’s best tally till then. The team spirit and tactical nous shown by the Stallions was incredible and often reminded of Zambia in 2012. They lost Alain Traoré, top scorer in group stages early in the tournament but still showed incredible hunger to knock out both Togo and Ghana after two physically draining matches. Put has a young team in his hands and will now aim to improve their position in 2014 World Cup qualifiers where Burkina Faso lie rock bottom in their group after two rounds.
The steady loss of strength of North African teams due to off-field issues has opened up new vistas in African football as unheralded nations continue to achieve in AFCON. Zambia’s unlikely triumph last year was followed by Burkina Faso’s even more remarkable journey in this edition. However, there isn’t much to suggest that these countries will be able to sustain their success in future. The power vacuum in African football may continue to persist in coming few years. Things may improve from North African teams in next two editions with the tournament being scheduled to be held in Morocco and Libya.
For Ivory Coast and Ghana this tournament brings more question than answers. Ivory Coast’s golden generation once again failed to deliver when it mattered most and may struggle to hold on to their position of highest ranked team in Africa in future. Ghana, on the other hand, may have reached yet another semi-final but their style of play continues to become more and more constipated. There is a feeling that the players are being bogged down too much with tactical discipline – a far cry from the CK Gyamfi’s days of them being called “African Brazil”.
Among other teams Mali and Cape Verde impressed in patches. Mali finished third for second consecutive AFCON, a highly commendable achievement given the woes back home. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles can replace Seydou Keita, who has been absolutely crucial for them in past half decade as he was in AFCON 2013. Algeria was possibly the most unlucky team in AFCON 2013 and definitely deserved more than a group stage exit. Former champions Ethiopia also disappointed after qualifying for AFCON for the first time in 31 years.
Overall, this was a largely controversy free AFCON and attendance figures improved markedly from the last edition. Refereeing decisions in some matches especially Ghana-Burkina Faso came under scanner while the poor condition of the playing turf also received lot of flak.
Much of Burkina Faso’s success was built on their solid midfield where Charles Kaboré was their star man. The Marseille midfielder was one of the most consistent players in AFCON 2013 and had an especially good game against tournament favourites Ghana in the semi-final.
Best Individual Performance
There was immense pressure on Burkinabe players when they played Ethiopia, who enjoyed strong local support. Burkina Faso had not won a match in AFCON in 21 attempts and were left clutching at straws as their opponents started strongly. Jonathan Pitroipa then rose to the occasion and dished out a Man of the Match performance. Inspired by his three assists Burkina Faso pumped in three goals – two of them scored after seeing their goal-keeper sent off. The Burkinabe striker got his name on the score-sheet as well to round off the 4-0 final score-line.
Flop of the tournament
The team which sealed one of the most memorable title triumphs in recent history last year was a pale shadow in the 2013 edition. Despite retaining most of their AFCON 2012 winning squad and management Zambia failed miserably in AFCON 2013 and should have very little complain about becoming the first defending champions to go out in group stages since Algeria in 1992. The Copper Bullets haven’t made expected progress since their victory a year back. Despite beating Ghana in a World Cup qualifiers Zambia were almost knocked out in AFCON 2013 qualifiers and scraped past Uganda in penalties. They looked jaded in the main tournament and scored only twice, one of them a dubious penalty against Nigeria. Hervé Renard took the blame of Zambia’s poor show and must now focus on securing a ticket to Brazil.
Among individuals Didier Drogba cut a sorry figure in what can turn out to be his last AFCON. Ivory Coast’s all-time top scorer was a mere shadow of his usual self in most of their matches and could do very little to prevent their shock exit.
Youssef Msakni (Tunisia vs Algeria)
Hailing from a group of 10 islands (one of which, Santa Luzia is not inhabited) the tiny nation stretching 4000 sq kms and with a population of just over 500,000, the Cape Verde football team had already created waves in qualifiers by knocking out the mighty Cameroon. “Blue Sharks” would upset all odds in the main tournament, reaching the knock-out rounds after finishing ahead of Morocco and Angola in Group A. The smallest nation to ever qualify for AFCON played a good match against Ghana as well and despite losing 2-0 had numerous attempts to upset their much hyped opponents.