ACON: Burkina Faso tops Group C as Zambia, Nigeria draw
Burkina Faso earned its first victory at the African Cup of Nations in 15 years on Friday, and could be on the verge of eliminating one of its more illustrious group opponents.
Burkina Faso beat Ethiopia 4-0 to go top of Group C with four points -- two more than defending champion Zambia and continental power Nigeria.
Zambia and Nigeria drew 1-1 in the day's earlier game at Mbombela Stadium, leaving both teams needing a win in their final group matches to avoid an embarrassing first-round exit.
Burkina Faso had one the most convincing victory of the African Cup of Nations so far, despite having goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama sent off for handling the ball outside his penalty area. Having gone ahead 1-0 in the first half, Burkina Faso added three goals in the last 16 minutes to put the game away.
"When we scored the first goal you saw Burkina Faso was released to play the game,'' Burkina Faso coach Paul Put said. "And I think when we were down to 10 men we kept very disciplined and we scored another three goals so I'm very happy.''
Alain Traore netted two of the goals and now tops the tournament scoring charts with three in two games.
The other match of the day was decided by two penalties, with Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene the winner in both instances.
Mweene first saw Nigeria's John Obi Mikel send a spot kick onto the outside of the post in the first half after diving the right way, and then scored one himself at the other end to equalize the game in the 85th minute.
Nigeria striker Emmanuel Emenike's smooth finish in the 57th minute had left Zambia's hopes of retaining its title hanging by a thread. But they were handed a lifeline when Egyptian referee Ghead Grisha awarded a penalty for a foul by Ogenyi Onazi - a decision which drew heavy criticism from the Nigerian camp.
"It was a bizarre call for a penalty. It really was one of the worst calls I've seen in the history of football,'' Nigeria captain and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama said.
"You don't see such calls for a game of such magnitude as Nigeria versus Zambia. I don't know what's really happening about the officiating. I'm really mad.''
Mweene's penalty-saving prowess was one of the keys during Zambia's winning campaign in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea last year, and he showed his ability at the other end when he slotted the spot kick into the top right-hand corner.
On Saturday, Ivory Coast will play Tunisia in Group D with coach Sabri Lamouchi hoping the tournament favorite can improve on its underwhelming 2-1 win over Togo.
"This is not a life-or-death game,'' Lamouchi said Friday through a translator. "Tomorrow, what is more important to me is the performance of the Elephants. Of course, taking the maximum points is also important, but we need to play better. We have to try to avoid making the same mistakes as we did the last time.''
The other Group D match in Rustenburg is between first-round losers Togo and Algeria.
Togo coach Didier Six missed the official pre-match press conference on Friday, sending an assistant in his place.
Six had walked out of the post-match news conference on Tuesday after saying just a few words, apparently upset with the referee's decision to disallow a Togo goal in the second half.
The team did not explain why Six was not at Friday's conference, though he has reportedly been at loggerheads with the federation over interference in selection matters.
In Durban, South Africa's injury list was growing along with the expectations from home fans that Bafana Bafana would make the quarterfinals after a sluggish start.
Tokelo Rantie joined fellow striker Lehlohonolo Majoro on the sidelines with a twisted ankle from the 2-0 win over Angola.
Majoro was already out of South Africa's final Group A game against Morocco on Sunday with a gash on his shin, while Rantie was now a serious doubt, leaving just Katlego Mphela and Bernard Parker as striker options.