Stallions surpass their ambitions

Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso

For a team that arrived in South Africa with modest Africa Cup of Nations ambitions, Burkina Faso have not done too badly.

The Stallions had one goal - to end a sorry winless run stretching back to 17 Africa Cup of Nations matches.

That goal was achieved when Paul Put's side clinched an improbable top spot in Group C and a place in the quarter-finals.

But the Burkinabe qualified for the last eight the hard way.

Drawn in one of the toughest first round groups, they opened with a 1-1 draw against two-time former champions Nigeria.

Then followed the 4-0 demolition of Ethiopia, a remarkable result given they played much of the match with 10 men.

That put them on the brink of the quarter-finals, but there was still the not insignificant task of facing reigning champions Zambia on Tuesday night.

Tactically astute, Put's men succeeded in eking out a goalless draw, and that despite Alain Traore, the competition's leading goal scorer, being stretchered off injured in the opening minutes.

Traore pulled a muscle in his left thigh and is almost certainly out of the tournament.

Burkina Faso's presence in the last eight is an enormous achievement for a team that has suffered first round knock-outs in all but seven of their eight appearances in the competition.

The Stallions' only previous appearance in the knock-out stages was back in 1998, when they finished fourth on home soil.

Put, who coached Gambia before replacing former Burkina boss Paulo Duarte last year, reflected: "This is our biggest ever achievement. We made it to the semi-finals once but that was when we were the hosts.

"Our first target at this Nations Cup was to do better than previous tournaments by winning a match.

"We did that against Ethiopia, then we set our next target, qualification, and we've achieved that.

"We had the belief that we could do better.

"I told the players they had the chance to write history for Burkina Faso, and they went out and wrote it."

Despite the heavily-criticised playing surface at Nelspruit, Put said he was happy to be staying here for their quarter-final, in contrast to Nigeria who will face Ivory Coast in Rustenburg.

"That's an advantage, this is our home ground now," said the 56-year-old, who is banned from coaching in his home country Belgium after receiving a three-year suspended prison sentence for match-fixing.

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