Rarely has one team’s cup run been so beset by misfortune and injustice as Burkina Faso’s fairytale slalom to this year’s nation’s cup centrepiece. In the group stage they wowed a continent by sealing a late draw against Nigeria, holding Zambia at arm’s length and battering Ethiopia. The hero of that early stage was Alain Traore, but cruelly, his Cup of Nations has been all but ended by a thigh injury.
Few saw any hope for the West Africans after Traore’s personal tragedy, but Jonathan Pitroipa had other ideas, and he has stepped up to become the team’s new talisman.
His extra time winner against Togo secured a dramatic, emotional return to the semi final stage, where the Stallions came up against the much-fancied Black Stars of Ghana.
Here, the Rennes midfielder was the darting, prompting creator in a firecracker of a contest. However, while his inventive and ambitious play gave the Burkina the initiative, his own participation ended long before the decisive penalty shootout.
Pitroipa received a second yellow, for simulation, after quite clearly being brought down in the Ghanaian box. A massive decision for the referee to make, however, staying true to his indifferent performance throughout the evening, Tunisian official Slim Jdidi made a disastrous call and sent the Burkinabe winger off.
The future looked grim for Pitroipa, the red ruling him out of Burkina Faso’s maiden Afcon final. Fortunately, the gods of fortune appear finally to be smiling on the Upper Volta, as Jdidi’s aberration has been overturned.
Good news for Burkina Faso perhaps, but not so for Nigeria, who now have to prepare to combat his speed and innovation in the continental centrepiece.