So Faso good

Burkina Faso staged the recent African Nations Cup. Piers Edwards reviews all the action from the thrilling yet controversial tournament

Burkina ’98 was the most successful ever African Nations Cup according to those who had attended previous championships, with the friendly Burkinabe proving far more receptive to the tournament than the South Africans had been two years earlier.

The football was spectacularly open, epitomised by free-scoring Ivory Coast, only two teams struggled (Mozambique and Algeria), and the Democratic Republic of Congo overcame their country’s recent problems by claiming the unlikeliest of third places – trailing 4-1 with four minutes to go against Burkina Faso, they eventually won on penalties.

Most of the credit for the tournament’s success should go to one Oumar Kanazoe, not a member of the organising committee but President of the Burkina Faso Supporters Club and Burkina Faso’s richest man to boot. The generosity of Mr OK, as he is popularly referred to, knows no bounds; not only does he hand out money once a week to those who visit his home, but he bought all the unsold tickets for Burkina’s games against Algeria, Guinea, Tunisia, Egypt and Congo and gave them away through the town hall on a first-come first-served basis, thus ensuring high attendances and a chance to attend matches for those who otherwise couldn’t afford to go.

He did the same for the final to the extent that punters were given 50 pence as an incentive to watch Egypt play South Africa. In a country where the average monthly wage is £20, many locals crowded round television sets to watch the games, not only those involving Burkina but all teams. Some fans struggled to find the five pence necessary to watch the games on the one television set in many villages and since ticket prices at the stadia were high (ranging from £1-£5), large crowds were not found at many of the games featuring teams other than the hosts.

Being relatively close, Ghana, Guinea, Togo and Ivory Coast were all well represented on the terraces, with the government of the latter paying £60,000 to send 200 selected fans to support Les Eléphantes. Those who did attend games received a daily reminder in the local papers of what they could and could not take into the grounds; on the banned list were such regular matchday essentials as rifles, pistols, knives, animals, fireworks, stones and… benches and chairs.

However, Monsieur Kanazoe may not have stopped at buying all the tickets. To many impartial observers, it appeared that the referees for certain Burkina games had also been freely available for purchase. Les Etalons (the Stallions) needed two wins from their final two group games to reach the quarter-finals, having lost their opener to Cameroon, and the desperately poor country suddenly found itself on the end of some much-needed aid. The local witchdoctors had advised that playing in red was required for victory but bizarre refereeing decisions were probably more necessary. With only 25 minutes left on the watch and the game between Algeria and Burkina scoreless, Gabon’s Alain Mongengui gave the most dubious of penalties when he accused an Algerian defender of having tugged Burkina’s No 9. Television evidence showed nothing more than Kassoum Ouedraogo falling over, yet this was enough for Mr Mongengui and the Stallions were spurred to a 2-1 victory once Ouedraogo himself had converted the penalty.

The next game witnessed the inexplicable sending-off of a Guinean player for a tackle from behind. Obviously it’s a dismissable offence, but if every player who had committed such a tackle had gone, the tournament would have been five-a-side by the quarter-finals. The justifiably aggrieved Guineans certainly saw red and following the ensuing defeat (the old logic of ten men being hard to beat does not add up when they’re playing under a 40-degree sun), two of them attacked both the referee and the Burkina goalkeeper, and one smashed the glass of their dressing room door.

Meanwhile, a few thousand Burkinabe were celebrating their country’s first ever qualification for the knockout stages with a full-scale pitch invasion, replete with cartwheels and Peter Beagrie-esque somersaults. The result; both Guineans were banned from international football for a year, the Guinean team had to pay a US$500 fine for the door plus the cost of replacing the glass, and the Burkina FA were fined $1,000 for the pitch invasion (which, if they wished, they could have paid for with the $1,000 they had received for beating Algeria from, aptly, a local transit company).

Other notable decisions included an Egyptian being booked in the last minute for time- wasting when his team were 3-0 up, and the referee sending off two players in the final minutes of Angola-South Africa when one had merely slapped the other’s head. The ref for the semi-final between South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo played ten minutes of non-existent injury-time, apparently hoping he could save himself the further labour of extra-time. No such luck.

Farrah Ado, President of the African Arbitration Committee, called a press conference to refute the BBC World Service’s claim that the refereeing in the tournament had been poor but only succeeded in strengthening the Beeb’s claims, by highlighting the fact that Lucas Radebe would be playing in the final despite having picked up two yellow cards, because one of the referees failed to mention it in his official report. Furthermore, Mr Ado claimed victory by revealing that those referees who had officiated badly had either been sent home or taken off the list for the forthcoming World Cup. He spectacularly failed to understand that you can remove the ref but you can’t remove his performance.

Of the five African teams going to the World Cup this summer, four were in Burkina Faso, the notable absentees being Olympic gold medallists Nigeria, still banned from the competition after pulling out at the last minute in 1996. The South Africans, playing a more European style of game than the others, triumphed by reaching the final, thus destroying the view that they had only won in ’96 thanks to their home advantage, and had the star of the tournament in 20-year-old Benni McCarthy of Ajax who scored seven goals in six games.

Tunisia and Morocco, due to face England and Scotland respectively in the World Cup, both failed to progress past the quarter-finals. Tunisia looked particularly lightweight in attack and slow at the back, and were crushed 2-0 in their opening game against the talented but ultimately frustrating Ghanaians.

Victories over Togo and Congo DR before a penalty shoot-out defeat against Burkina in the quarter-finals shouldn’t give Glenn Hoddle any restless nights, but Craig Brown might have slightly more to worry about with the Moroccans. The Scottish FA were advised not to send a scout to Burkina due to poor health conditions but if he had gone, he would have seen that Morocco, Africa’s no 1 team, did not live up to their ranking. They failed to raise their game against the South Africans in the quarter-finals and the supposedly inspirational Mustapha Hadji was disappointing.

That left Cameroon, the heroes of Italia ’90, who didn’t look particularly enamoured with the tournament, as once again financial squabbling overshadowed the occurrences on the pitch – it appears that the directors, not the players, are the ones who are paid. They have some extremely talented youngsters such as Rigobert Song and Solomon Olembe, but it remains to be seen whether their 4-4-2 system can muscle them through against the likes of Chile and Austria.

The tournament was attended by various well-known faces such as Bobby Robson, Roger Milla, Michel Platini and Basile Boli, who was working for French TV. When a group of English journalists caught up with the latter in a Ouagadougou restaurant, we asked him if he could answer a question. “I bet it’s about Stuart Pearce,” he smiled, “the English always want to know about Pearce!” Spot on, Basile. “Before the match, Chris Waddle told me all about Pearce and I just thought I would get in there first!” Another beaming smile; he doesn’t know how lucky he is.

The best answer to any question posed by a journalist was given by Burkhard Ziese, Zambia’s German coach, who when asked who he feared in Group D, the so-called “Group of Death” (no football tournament is complete without one), replied, “No-one. I fear nobody in the world except my wife.” The prize for most inept commentary goes to the Cameroon radio commentator for the Burkina-Tunisia penalty shoot-out – “Now more than any other time, it’s most important that Zeba must score to put Tunisia through. He shoots, he scores… no, it is saved.” How difficult can it be?

The final words go to one Fati Campaore, a Burkinabe, who, when asked by a daily paper what he thought of Burkina’s chances in the semi-final, replied, “The Stallions of Burkina Faso must sweat like fish to beat Egypt.” That old chestnut.

From WSC 134 April 1998. What was happening this month