Thursday, February 7, 2013

Afcon 2013; The best teams in the finals.

The poor officiating took shine off the best performance of the South Africa Afcon 2013 when Burkna Faso blasted Ghana out of the tournament to reach their first ever final that they will play against Nigeria on Sunday. While that bad and incompetent referee has been sent home, as if there was a chance he would stay and referee the final, his bad decision will directly impact on the whole history of the Africa football because, Pitriopa, a victim of his ineptitude will not take part in the final.

The Burkinabe was one of the brightest things left at the tournament and his charge at goal was unlawfully brought to a halt by a Ghanaian. The referee denied the player and Burkina Faso a penalty and adding salt and chillies to injury, Pitroipa was dismissed for simulation. Together with Traore, they would have been value for money against Super Eagles of Nigeria but the Stallions have enough ammunition to dispatch the super-charged former champions.

The soft penalty Ghana got was not anything close to a penalty, even from distance and at first glance. The denied goal Burkina Faso scored was legitimate. The referee could have awarded two penalties to the minnows, but the tall Bance could have scored four times at least. At the end of the day, while the match could have been wrapped up in 90 minutes or at worst in extra time by the Burkina Faso, poetic justice was served in the penalty shootout as Ghana were sent packing 3-2.

The match was the most entertaining so far and above all, very mature. Ghana showed some discipline in their operation as each man reasonably covered their spaces effectively as they attacked purposefully but patiently. They exercised their influence in strictly keeping their shape and temperament at all times. While this made them effective in their passing game and their shape, it allowed Burkina Faso to operate better with their physical approach.

The Burkinabe then found spaces to function and moved forward in compact units that did not leave open spaces in both offence and defence. This improved their efficiency in passing and receiving the ball and hence their attacking power was greatly enhanced. 

Ghana did not have easy access as a result of how Burkina Faso responded to the conditions. It would take the Black Stars some clinical efficiency to dismantle this cohesive unit, which they did not. The ping-pong match became conducive to how the Burkinabe played as they were presented with obvious goal-scoring opportunities which they failed to convert in regulation and extra time. Bance was the chief culprit but he made amends with the equalising goal after Ghana led for most of the match, and he put away his cheeky penalty to the delight of the crowd at Mbombela Stadium.

By any measure, the defending by both teams was atrocious while the finishing was appalling. The gravity of the occasion could be to blame as the nerves took their toll. The passing and reception was a little above board bit the marksmen were guilty on poor first touches. Tackles were cleaner and solid while the marking was reasonably structured. I must particularly mention that Burkina Faso blasted the ball on many occasions when placing it safely into the net could have done the business. Bance was the chief culprit.

Nigeria were at another level when they dispatched Mali maliciously with a solid display of football that they dished out with an unforgiving attitude. Victor Moses played a superb game with his runs with and without the ball. More than their shape and discipline of the strategy, the Super Eagles were clinical. They did not create an avalanche of chances but put away the vital half-chanes coming their way to put Mali on the back foot.

The opening minutes were evenly balanced until the first three quick goals dismantled the Malians. Nigeria were better composed in midfield as they supplied cleaner balls to forwards. Their defensive shape forced long range shots from the Malian midfield and that desperation continued and grew worse after half-time.

After the fourth goal, Mali were presented with many obvious scoring chances which they fluffed. If they managed to put away two or three of them, it would be interesting to see how Nigeria would react. The Super Eagles were fairly solid and disciplined but Mali did not seem to push hard to repel the firepower that came their way.

Their game plan was different from what was noticed in their group stages, where they played very slowly and waited for single opportunities to pounce. This might have invited Nigerians to threaten more and harder and move forward. 

In both semi-finals, decision-making improved from what we saw at the beginning of the tournament but there was much room for improvement, especially in the final attacking third. All teams respected each other and placed many men behind the ball. The solid defensive shapes were broken down by individual brilliance of the midfielders.

One specific tactic Nigeria used was the Malian left back position of Taumbura. Taumbura was always offensive throughout the tournament and left yawning gaps behind. Moses exploited the cavity in that flank, something that we cried about that Thuso Phala of South Africa should have done in the quarter final. That gap was the single most used channel and source of all Nigerian attacks. How the Malian coach did not adjust or react to it was surprising. 

Mali got ripped easier than they deserved as their crumbled like a sand castle or a deck of cards. The efforts to fight back were met by tough resistance from the Nigerian midfield and defense while the heads dropped for the Malians, a death knell to their ambitions to conquer Africa. More telling between the two sides was the believe and determination and it boiled down to the psychological edge that the Super Eagles had over the Eagles of Mali. #

The bigger story was to come, the defeat of Ghana by minnows Burkina Faso, a small nation previously known as the Upper Volta, whose name was changed by one Captain Thomas Sankara, whose African renaissance spirit truly came to the party and pulled the revolutionary victory for the Burkinabe, the upright men.