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Afcon: Ghana, Burkina Faso and Nelspruit’s sandy pitch

Wednesday’s Africa Cup of Nations semi-final may be a gimme for Ghana on paper, but this last-four encounter is being played not on paper but on Nelspruit’s heavily-criticised sandy pitch and that, Burkina Faso reckon, puts them in the driving seat.

Burkina Faso coach Pot claims he has an advantage over Ghana

Wednesday’s Africa Cup of Nations semi-final may be a gimme for Ghana on paper, but this last-four encounter is being played not on paper but on Nelspruit’s heavily-criticised sandy pitch and that, Burkina Faso reckon, puts them in the driving seat.

Four-time champions Ghana, odds-on with the bookmakers, secured their 12th semi-final ticket with a robust if not spectacular 2-0 defeat of debutants Cape Verde.

The Burkinabe, shorn of their injured scoring machine Alain Traore, eked out a 1-0 extra-time win over Togo for only their second appearance at this advanced stage of the continental showcase.

Perhaps crucially, Paul Put’s band of over-achievers have played all their four matches at the Mbombela Stadium.

The threadbare playing surface more resembles a children’s play-pit than the venue for a match of this stature after a fungal infection triggered by heavy rainfall destroyed swathes of grass.

And Put feels his team will have a crucial advantage over Ghana, who have played all their games up to now on the pristine grass of Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

“It’s very difficult because you need one or two controls before you can play the ball, while on the training ground it’s only one touch.

“So I told the players to be patient and stay well organised because with this pitch you never know.” he told the BBC.

As Ivory Coast discovered to their cost against Nigeria in Rustenburg on Sunday, this competition is no respecter of the traditional African football hierarchy.

So despite Ghana coming in a massive 66 rungs above Burkina Faso in FIFA’s world rankings, only a fool would rule out the Stallions’ chances.

“What I know is that we will play with confidence,” Put ventured.

“Nelspruit is our ground. Ghana are a great team, but we’ve already come up against Nigeria and Zambia (both matches ending in stalemate). You never know.”

Ghana are slowly coming to the boil after a laboured opening draw with DR Congo, a 1-0 win over Mali, before turning in one of their best performances for some time in the 3-0 win over Niger.

A double from substitute Mubarak Wakaso ended Cape Verde’s dream run to the last eight to edge coach Kwesi Appiah’s men closer to a first title in 31 years.

The two sides have only crossed swords twice before in this competition, Ghana prevailing 2-1 in 2002 and 1-0 in 2010 in group games.

A tight game is in prospect, then, if history is anything to go by, especially with the Stallions’ missing three-goal Traore.

But Rennes midfielder Jonathan Pitroipa manfully stepped in to Traore’s shoes, heading in the winner against Togo in the 105th minute.

Pitroipa’s winner was just reward for Burkina Faso’s more offensive approach in a drab quarter-final.

Burkina arrived in South Africa with the modest ambition of ending a winless Nations Cup run stretching back 17 games.

They broke that sorry sequence in style with their eye-catching 4-0 rout of Ethiopia in their second run-out.

Now the only thing standing between them and the final in Soweto’s Soccer City stadium on Sunday is a Ghana side whose top performer over the past two weeks has arguably been their goalkeeper, Fatawu Dauda.

He pulled off first-class saves against Cape Verde to earn him the man of the match award, but hard-to-please Appiah believes he can improve.

“He has been doing well, but he still needs to do a lot more to remain as Ghana’s number one. He must keep fighting.”

READERS COMMENTS

  1. Viper says:

    If you have a good team,you can win a game or two and even the odd tournament but thats just about it.Pedigree on the other hand will win you important games and tournaments.That is why Nigeria won the match against CIV,Nigeria has the pedigree in the tournament,they have rich in the tournament.Ghana has the pedigree in this competition and this even should be motivation enough for the players.If they don’t go out there and play like a Ghana national team, then, well..and its not like we are playing against Nigeria,Egypt or Cameroon, teams with equally good record in the competition..

  2. African Consciousness says:

    Mind games, somebody tell Coach Put that the pitch is not a factor. Every member of the Ghana squad has endured playing on some bad pitches growing up and the Black Stars are not going to whine like Adebayor. KPB is not on the team to complain about the bad African facilities and Adam is cool with the bad pitch because he is not playing so you see Coach Put the Black Stars do not fear the pitch. Come tomorrow it will be all about the football and not the pitch. Some of the Black Stars have played a lot of beach soccer growing up so Coach Put the sandy pitch is a non-factor. The Black Stars will put you in your place.

    I know Coach Appiah does not believe in the FIFA ranking table but it is based on statistics. Burkina Faso is ranked 92 and Ghana is ranked 26. Coach and Black Star players the Stallions are not in the same league as you and you must put them in their place. The game must be played, you have to sweat and work hard to dominate Burkina Faso. You are a much better team, Ghana is light years ahead of Burkina Faso. FIFA says so but you must prove on the bad pitch that you are better. You are vastly superior team from 1 to 11 so go out there and play your hearts out and come out victorious. Prove that Ghana is worth its weight in the FIFA ranking table. Prove that you deserve to represent Africa next year in the world cup! Win the finals and you represent Africa at the Confederations Cup more money and more prestige going into the World Cup 2014. You guys are professional soccer players this is what you do so go out there and get the job done, forget about the pitch play beautiful football and win against another pretender who has over achieved. Go Black Starts.

  3. kwame in london says:

    love your spirit bro

  4. African Consciousness says:

    Go Black Stars! LOL

  5. Odukwe says:

    Burkina Faso and Naija for AFCON 2013 Final!!