Burkina Faso have become the first team to book their place in the quarterfinals of the Africa Cup of Nations, having beaten Gabon 7-6 on penalties (the teams drew 1-1 after extra time) at the Limbe Stadium on Sunday.
The Stallions had to fight hard to earn passage to the final eight, even though they led through Bertrand Traore for most of the match, but a 10-man Panthers put in an incredible fighting effort to come within touching distance of an unlikely victory.
Gabon created most of the early play, but did not fashion any clear chances with which to test Burkina Faso goalkeeper Herve Koffi.
The Stallions then won a debatable penalty on 14 minutes, with Issa Kabore’s powerful run down the right ended by a challenge from Sidney Obissa, who was adjudged to have pushed over the Burkinabe attacker by Moroccan referee Redouane Jiyed.
Bertrand Traore took the spot kick, but his left-footed shot rattled the crossbar and rebounded high into the air before being safely cleared from danger.
Traore made up for his penalty miss with a crisp finish on 28 minutes to put Burkina Faso 1-0 up, running onto Dango Outtara’s superbly-weighted pass before sweeping a low shot past the advancing goalkeeper Jean-Noel Amonome – with the ball finding the back of the net via the inside of the post.
The Panthers’ Aaron Boupendza thought he had scored an outstanding equaliser on 41 minutes, having picked up a diagonal ball to the left of the penalty area before cutting inside and finishing with his right foot, but the offside flag ruled out his effort to leave the score 1-0 in favour of Burkina Faso at the interval.
Gabon made three changes within the opening five minutes of the second half, sending on Louis Ameka Autchanga, Denis Bouanga and Axel Meye.
They created a couple of good chances to level the game, with Meye and Boupendza getting in each other’s way to meet a right-wing cross just before the hour mark, while shortly thereafter Guelor Kanga tumbled under a challenge which could have brought a penalty but was ignored by the VAR.
The Panthers then suffered a major blow midway through the second half when Obissa, already on a yellow card, pulled back Dango Ouattara on the edge of the box and was shown a second caution – reducing Gabon to 10 men.
Burkina Faso should have killed off the game on 75 minutes when Traore jinked through the defence on a counter attack and stroked a low shot on target, but Amonome made a fine save diving low to his right to keep Gabon clinging on.
That signalled the first of a slew of chances for the Stallions, but some desperate defending from Gabon, poor finishing and a couple of outstanding saves from Amonome kept the score down to 1-0.
The Panthers’ desperate scrambling at the back was not in vain, as defender Bruno Ecuele Manga brought them level in the first minute of injury time at the end of the 90: the centre-back rose highest to meet a corner kick and headed home via a deflection off Adama Guira for 1-1 – and an extra half hour of play!
Eleven minutes into extra time, Burkina Faso thought they had reclaimed the lead when Abdoul Tapsoba turned home a square pass from fellow substitute Zakaria Sanogo, but his celebrations were cut short by the offside flag.
Tapsoba and Ismahila Ouedraogo had further chances in the second half of extra time, but both were denied by yet more fine shot-stopping from Amonome. The Stallions were unable to fully capitalise on their numerical advantage, leaving the game to be decided by penalties.
A tense shootout followed, with Kanga and Saidou Simpore both missing in the third round of kicks, while the eighth round opened with Gabon’s Yannis N’Gakoutou shooting over the crossbar, before Tapsoba was denied by Amonome. Palun then missed for the Panthers and Ouedraogo finally settled the match, with Burkina Faso triumphing 7-6 after an epic battle.
Burkina Faso (1) (1) 1 (B. Traore 28’)
Gabon (0) (1) 1 (Ecuele Manga/Guira og 90+1’)
After extra time – Burkina Faso won 7-6 on penalties
Burkina Faso: Koffi, Kabore, S. Ouattara, E. Tapsoba, Yago, Guira, Toure (Ouedraogo 114’), B. Traore (Traore 83’), Da. Ouattara (A. Tapsoba 90’), Sangare (Simpore 82’), Bande (Sanogo 73’)
Gabon: Amonome, Palun, Ecuele Manga, Obissa, Oyono (Meye 50’), Moucketou-Moussounda (Ameka Autchanga 46’), Poko, Obiang (N’Gakoutou 85’), Kanga, Allevinah (Bouanga 50’), Boupendza