NELSPRUIT, South Africa: Burkina Faso reached the semifinals of the African Nations Cup for the first since 1998 when Jonathan Pitroipa produced the one moment of true class to head home an extra-time winner in a 1-0 victory over fellow outsiders Togo on Sunday night.
Pitroipa pulled away from his marker in the last seconds of the first period of extra time to head Charles Kabore’s corner in off the underside of the bar to send Burkina Faso through to a meeting with Ghana back in Nelspruit on Wednesday.
The match, on the hard, sandy pitch at the Mbombela Stadium, seemed destined to go to penalties after 90 minutes of largely uninspiring football, although both sides did have chances to win it in the closing minutes of normal time.
Togo’s talismanic skipper Emmanuel Adebayor worked tirelessly for his side, who had never reached this stage in seven previous attempts, but he was unable to find the net with one effort cleared off the line and another well saved by Burkina goalkeeper Daouda Diakite.
Burkina’s Belgian coach Paul Put dedicated the victory to the country’s president Blaise Compaore who was celebrating his 62nd birthday, adding: “This is like a never-ending story. We are very happy and very proud.
“The pitch is hard and the conditions are difficult but it is like our home pitch now and I am looking forward to meeting Ghana in the semi-final.
“I don’t have a crystal ball and cannot tell you what will happen but our objective was to reach the semifinals and we have done that, and I am the happiest coach at this tournament.” Togo coach Didier Six was naturally disappointed at the result but praised his players for making it this far.
“If you make it into the quarterfinals you deserve to be there and this was a historic qualification for Togo as they have never been to this stage before,” he told reporters.
“Overall, this has been a very good tournament for us. Togo has a lot of quality, a lot of good young players and a bright future ahead of them and I am very proud of my players tonight.” But while there some clever individual skills on display, the match itself was a poor one, littered by 53 fouls and with only seven attempts on target during the 120 minutes.
Whether it was the sandy pitch or the rarefied atmosphere of reaching the quarterfinals, both sides took time to settle but after a poor first half the match improved as a spectacle but there was still a lack of real quality in front of goal.