Africa Cup of Nations: Bance fires Burkina Faso into semis
The 32-year-old, more clumsy than clinical as the years go by, has to wait for his opportunities from the bench these days. As the substitute took his final instructions from manager Paulo Duarte, with the quarter-final with Tunisia poised at 0-0, the Burkinabe fans spotted his introduction and raised the loudest cheer of the night thus far.
Within 5 minutes Bancé had made his critical contribution, an 81st minute free-kick powered past Aymen Mathlouthi. “I knew that Bancé could get inside that defence and he has a great ability to shoot,” Duarte said. “Fortunately for us, the first shot was a success.”
As a tiring Tunisia chased an equaliser, Niguimbe Nakoulma raced around Mathlouthi and rolled the ball into the net to confirm Les Étalons’ place in the last four.
Tunisia will reflect on a tournament which confounded their critics. They had followed up their impressive win over Algeria by scoring four goals against Zimbabwe. This is a strikingly different team – in style and spirit – to the one which ground its way through Afcon 2015, culminating in an almost comically bad tempered quarter-final defeat to Equatorial Guinea.
Manager Henri Kasperczak has encouraged skill over cynicism, with Wahbi Khazri, Youssef Msakni and Naim Sliti excelling in front of the combative Mohamed Ben Amor. They started the first-half with real intent but faded badly after the break. Khazri was hauled off to his obvious discontent.
Burkina Faso, meanwhile, continue to punch above their weight after semi-final appearances in both 1998 and 2013. This time they have done it without the injured Jonathan Pitroipa.
Bertrand Traore, the Chelsea winger on loan to Ajax, is now the key to team’s attacking balance. He revelled in his battle against Tunisian left-back Aymen Abdennour. The highlight of the opening period came when Nakoulma outwitted both Ben Amor and Abdenour in quick succession before feeding Traore who shot over from 15 yards.
But it was the support around Traore in midfield, particularly from Charles Kabore, which had Burkina increasingly dominant. Tunisia retreated, appearing to wait for a chance on the break. Just as extra-time looked likely, Bancé took centre stage before racing to the bench for an extended celebration.
Bukinabe expats, who came out in force at the Stade de l’Amitie, were jubilant but the attendance still struggled to hit 5,000. Host Gabon’s exit at the group stage has hardly helped enthusiasm for tickets.
Burkina Faso will face Egypt or Morocco in Libreville on Wednesday.