It may not have been apparent at the time but Burkina Faso’s chances of progressing at the Africa Cup of Nations took a definitive tumble at the same time as Jonathan Pitroipa in the sixth minute of Thursday’s West African derby against Ivory Coast.
The Rennes forward had latched on to a quick return pass from Moumouni Dagano and knocked the ball beyond Souleymane Bamba. As Pitroipa attempted to jump over Bamba’s outstretched leg there appeared to be contact and the featherweight Burkinabe winger was sent sprawling. All eyes turned to the Egyptian referee who, to Pitroipa’s astonishment, failed to point to the spot.
Nevermind. The move showed that the elegant Stallions could unsettle the powerful Elephants with their pace and agility. It gave them belief and moments later another sharp combination between Dagano and Alain Traore allowed the latter to shoot menacingly goalwards.
Paulo Duarte’s underdogs were playing better football than their more star studded neighbours and looked capable of getting the win they needed.
The trouble is Burkina were merely repeating the performance of four days earlier when they outplayed Angola for long periods only to lose 2-1 due to two horrendous defensive mistakes. The story would be the same in Malabo.
As in the opener, they failed to convert their chances and conceded two terrible goals. Salomon Kalou’s terrific finish came after Drogba’s hopeful cross had been ignored by three sleepy looking defenders.
The second summed up poor Bakary Kone’s tournament: superb for Lyon in France this season, the centre-back has been lost here. The own goal he scored to seal his country’s elimination came after his glaring error for Angola’s first goal.
In between the two Ivorian strikes, Traore had half-a-dozen dangerous shots and Dagano struck the crossbar. Yet Duarte’s men – eliminated after two games – will go home with absolutely nothing to show for their terrific football.
In Pitroipa and Traore, they possess two of Africa’s finest attacking talents. It is sad for the tournament to be losing such players so early. But until Burkina learn to defend better these exciting players, who dazzled at times with their quick passing, will never get the opportunity to prosper on the biggest stage.
Burkina Faso are young enough and gifted enough to come back much stronger in South Africa 2013. But the team’s enormous potential will only be realised if, in the next 12 months, they learn to defend much better.