Sandy field an advantage for Burkina Faso

TRISTAN HOLME Associated Press Published:

NELSPRUIT, South Africa (AP) -- After reaching the second round of the African Cup of Nations on foreign soil for the first time, Burkina Faso is well placed to take advantage of the difficult surface at the Mbombela Stadium and go even further.

A disciplined showing from Burkina Faso saw it hold Zambia to a 0-0 draw on Tuesday to finish at the top of Group C and advance at the defending champion's expense.

Knowing that the sandy field has made attacking football almost impossible, the Burkinabes have concentrated on nullifying their opponents and looking to hit them on the counterattack.

That tactic has brought draws with both Zambia and Nigeria, as well as a 4-0 win over Ethiopia, which represented Burkina Faso's first victory at the African Cup of Nations since it hosted the tournament in 1998.

The team will face either Togo or Tunisia at Mbombela Stadium on Sunday.

"We don't know who we are facing, so we will have to see. But we know that we are playing in Nelspruit, so that is an advantage," Burkina Faso coach Paul Put said. "It is our home stadium now."

While Burkina Faso's progression may have upset pre-tournament predictions, it did not come as a surprise to Tuesday's opposition, which knew that the majority of the Burkinabes have experience from leagues outside the African continent.

Six members of the 23-man squad play in France's top division, and only four are with African clubs.

"We expected anything because Burkina Faso is a strong side with players who are in Europe, and they have been in the African Cup for a long time without going through to the quarterfinals," Zambia midfielder Rainford Kalaba said. "So this was their chance to show their fans back home they can do it for their country."

That was the message which Put delivered to his players prior to the game against the defending champions.

"I told the players, 'You have to write history. It's the moment to write history. Maybe this chance will never happen again,'" Put said. "I think Zambia always played long balls, which was also an advantage for us. We focused on winning the second ball and I think we did that well. I'm very happy for the players because I think they deserve it."