Why Burkina Faso Have Been the Story of the Africa Cup of Nations so Far
The Africa Cup of Nations is always an entertaining and exciting spectacle and this year's edition has been no different, pitting the continent's best players against each other to find the the group who can mould the usual mix of technical ability and power to yield a winner.
Often the ACN does not see one of the traditional favourites end up lifting the trophy; Nigeria and Ivory Coast would attest to that.
This time around one of the most impressive performers have been Burkina Faso, who have coped admirably to emerge from a tough group stage to qualify for the semifinals.
Having triumphed to finish top of Group C ahead of reigning champions Zambia, Nigeria and Ethiopia, the Burkinabe managed to defeat Togo in the quarterfinals by an extra time goal to nil.
They now face Ghana in the semis as they seek to add another glorious chapter to what has already been a historic tournament—here's why they are the story of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
One of the Outsiders for Success
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Come the beginning of the tournament eyes are eagerly cast over squad lists, recent form and managerial expertise to try and predict who the big hitters will be.
Ivory Coast's group with Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure were predictably included, while South Africa's home advantage counted for plenty in the pre-tournament odds.
Ghana and Mali have their own European-based superstars and were thought likely to be amongst the challengers, as were Nigeria with a host of Premier League players at their disposal.
Burkina Faso were certainly outsiders at best, with up to 10 nations from the 16-strong list given a better likelihood of attaining glory.
Into the last four of the competition and Les Etalons are still going strong, unbeaten in all four of their games and in heady company with Ghana, Mali and Nigeria, their fellow last men standing.
The Current Leading Scorer
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In a tournament which has yielded a relatively low average of 2.04 goals per match (57 goals from 28 games), finding an attacker in form who can hit the back of the net with regularity can make the difference between success and an early exit.
With Lorient striker Alain Traore, Burkina Faso had exactly that as he hit three goals in the opening two games of the group stage.
A last-minute equaliser against Nigeria proved hugely important before he hit two in a 4-0 thrashing of Ethiopia.
Traore went off injured against Zambia in the final group stage match, but he was already the competition's top scorer by that time and remains so after the quarterfinals, though Nigeria's Emmanuel Emenike and Ghana's Wakaso Mubarak have joined him on three goals.
The Ligue 1-based striker will not play again in the tournament, but he has already done a huge service to his country by firing them through to the knockout rounds.
Their Best-Ever AFCON Run Outside of Home Soil
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Burkina Faso do not have a lengthy or impressive track record in major tournaments.
They have never qualified for a FIFA World Cup and had only previously appeared in eight Africa Cup of Nations events, compared to fellow semifinalists Ghana (18) and Nigeria (16).
Only once previously had Burkina Faso ever progressed beyond the First Round of the AFCON, and that came in 1998 when they hosted the tournament.
Right now it is a case of history in the making for the Burkinabe as they have progressed not just past the group stages but into the last four of the competition, the first ever time they have done so at a major event not played on home soil.
To do so at any point is historic, but to do so in passing the reigning champions, one of the pre-tournament favourites and reach the last four amongst such lofty company as the teams who remain is indeed impressive.
Only a Year Ago They Lost All Three AFCON Matches and Finished Bottom
There is a final reason why Burkina Faso have become the story of the tournament.
With the Africa Cup of Nations switching into odd-numbered years to avoid being held in the same years as FIFA World Cups, this is the second competition that the African nations have entered into within the space of a year.
In 2012, hosted in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, Burkina Faso were a real shambles. They finished bottom of Group B without a single point to their name, they only managed to score two goals and were never ahead in any match.
Having already been defeated by Angola and Ivory Coast, a final-match loss to Sudan left the Burkinabe bottom, humiliated.
A listless defeat to Ivory Coast ended with a spectacular, if unwanted, own goal by Bakary Kone.
He, along with the rest of the nation, will be delighted to witness the turnaround that Burkina Faso have been able to show to reach the latter stages of 2013's version of the event.
Kone has played a key part in this year's competition, not missing a single minute of the tournament, in ensuring Burkina Faso's success starts from the back—they have kept three clean sheets in their four games.
If they can keep it up against Ghana in the semifinals then there is a chance that the nation could go on to create one of the biggest AFCON shocks of all time.