Rampant Nigeria and impressive Burkina Faso will meet in the final of the African Nations Cup at Soccer City on Sunday after two highly dramatic if contrasting semi-final victories on Wednesday.
Nigeria pulverised Mali 4-1 in Durban with the most accomplished showing of any team in the tournamnent so far, hammering in three goals before halftime.
Burkina Faso, who started the competition as rank outsiders, battled to a 1-1 draw with Ghana after extra time before triumphing 3-2 on penalties on the sandy Mbombela Stadium pitch in Nelspruit.
The only discordant note for the Stallions is a ban for Sunday’s match for their dangerous winger Jonathan Pitroipa who was shown a second yellow card for simulation three minutes from the end of extra time.
However, coach Paul Put said afterwards the team would launch an immediate protest against the decision by Tunisian referee Slim Jedidi.
It will be Nigeria’s seventh final as they seek their first title for 19 years and Burkina Faso’s first as they bettered their best showing in 1998 when they reached the semi-finals in their own country.
They also showed impressive reserves of stamina as they were also forced to play extra time on Sunday before beating Togo 1-0 in the quarter-finals.
Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi now has the chance of becoming only the second man in the tournament’s 56-year history to win the title as both player and coach following Mahmoud El Gohary of Egypt who won the title in 1959 as a player and 1998 as a coach, in Burkina Faso.
The team’s performance represents a chance for some redemption for Put who was banned for life in his native Belgium after being involved in a match-fixing scandal in 2007.
The two semis were both highly-charged dramatic games following two totally contrasting narratives.