On Friday 24th June 2022, Burkina Faso will face Nigeria in the final of the WAFU Zone B U-17 Championship at the Cape Coast Stadium, Ghana. Nigeria beat Cote D’Ivoire in the semi final quite comfortably after coming from a goal down to win 3-1. Burkina Faso however needed a 69th minute penalty to beat hosts Ghana 1-0 and advance to the final. Both teams remain unbeaten in the competition. The two finalists have qualified for the CAF U-17 Championship slated for 2023 in Algeria by reaching the final of the WAFU Zone B U-17. Now that is irrespective of the outcome of the final.
If ever there was a competition that presented the true reflection of games then this is it. The one upset occurred when Niger after losing their first two games beat Benin who needed just a draw to progress from the group stage in Group B. Every other fixture has seen the favorites win. Who is the favorite between Nigeria and Burkina Faso? Nigeria beat Ghana 4-2 and Togo 3-1 to finish top of Group A. In Group B, both Niger and Benin suffered a 2-1 defeat to Burkina Faso. In their last game, The Stallions of Burkina Faso came from two goals down to beat Cote D’Ivoire’s Little Elephants 4-2 to top the group. It is fair to say the two finalists have deserved or perhaps earned their place.
Football is a team sport and will require both teams to play as a unit to win. However there are interesting matchups in this fixture that will require individual players to win their individual battles on the night of the final for their respective teams. But first let’s look at the probable line up of both teams.
Burkina Faso – Probable Lineup; Isidore Troare, Nouhoun Bamba, Cheick Compaore, Landry Yameogo, Toh Lankouande, Farouk Ouattara, Arouna Ouattara, Cheick Camara, Ousmane Camara, Aboubacar Camara, Souleymane Alio
Nigeria – Probable Lineup; Richard Odoh, Emmanuel Michael, Jeremiah Olaleke, Miracle Ogwor, Yahaya Lawali, Rapheal Oyebanjo, Ozor Okeke, Ebube Okere, Jubril Azeez, Abubakar Abdulai, Precious Williams
Ousmane Camara (Burkinabe Forward) vs Emmanuel Michael (Nigerian Left back) – Camara has been Burkina Faso’s most impressive player, scoring four times in four games and picking up one man of the match award. He comes up against Nigeria’s Emmanuel Michael who from left back has three goals in three games and won three man of the match awards in as many games. The Burkinabe forward has great burst of pace and the trickery that makes him almost impossible to stop in one-on-one situations. Playing against Emmanuel Michael is a compelling contest because the left back’s energy level coupled with his athleticism to gallop down the wing makes him effective on either end of the pitch. But how much risk will he be willing take in going forward knowing Camara is three or four yards behind him?
On the flip side Camara unlike in other games might have to commit a bit more to helping his right back, Yahaya Lawali by tracking Michael when he gets on his bike. This dynamic can take Camara further away from the Nigerian half and away from goal. Burkina Faso can decide to keep Camara high and wide and allow one of his midfielders to take the responsibility of tracking Michael when he overlaps. That makes the attacker an outlet for a counter attack for Burkina Faso. Nigeria as well give Micheal the license to push forward and send one of their midfielders over to take care of Camara. It should be fascinating to see how this matchup unfolds.
Watch Ousmane Camara’s four goals in the tournament below.
Emmanuel Michael (Nigerian Left back) vs Isidore Traore (Burkinabe Goalkeeper) – Yes the sight of the matchup is quite confusing but that could be where the game is won or lost? It still does not make sense, yes. Let’s get to it. The Nigerian left back has three goals in the tournament and of them came from direct free kicks. His techniques is brilliant. The three time man of the match award winner is a specialist on dead balls. His free kicks are 8/10 on target but the three that hit the back of the net could have been stopped. But how? The first thing for Burkina Faso will be to avoid giving away cheap free kicks in dangerous positions. But if they give them away then Isidore Traore must take a cue from the three Michael has finished. They quite similar; goalkeepers were unsighted and saw the ball late. Let us go through them.
1. The first he scored was against Ghana, the curl on the ball around the wall was perfect but there was a goalkeeping error. The Ghanaian goalkeeper, Ahmed Dembarah picked the wrong spot on his line before the free kick. Dembarah set his wall to cover his left hand side and that was right thing to do. But instead of taking couple of steps to his right side to get the ball in his sight, he stood right behind the wall. He only saw the ball when it had curled past the Ghanaian wall. It was too late to make the grounds, too late to save it. Even though Nigeria had a two-man human wall in front of the Ghanaian wall it did not matter.
2. Nigeria’s equaliser in the semi final against Cote D’Ivoire was from the magical left boot of Michael, again. This time it was in an almost impossible angle and it wasn’t a clean strike but it still managed to find its way to the back of the net. Nigeria were clever though. The Ivorian goalkeeper, Mohammed Cisse asked for a two-man human wall but Nigeria doubled it by setting another two-man human wall in front and to the right of the Ivorian wall blocking the goalkeeper’s view. This time Nigeria’s two man wall mattered. The Nigerian wall collapsed right before Micheal struck the ball. His effort went through the space the collapsed Nigerian wall took. Cisse who had seen the ball late and was resetting himself to make a save was then disrupted by Abubakar Idris who made a cute little run across the goalkeeper. Ball found its way through and into the back of the net.
3. His most recent and third goal came only moments after his second to send Nigeria into the lead against Cote D’Ivoire. Nigeria repeated the trick we saw in Michael’s second goal. The ball was rather more central this time but the principle was the same for Nigeria. Cisse set a human wall of four bodies, Nigeria however had two bodies in front of the Ivorian wall. The Nigerian wall broke right before the strike but unfortunately for Cisse his Ivorian wall also broke and the ball went straight through. The goalkeeper again saw the ball late and could not go down in time to make a save.
From what we have studied from how Nigeria execute their free kicks, the Burkinabe goalkeeper, Traore must be sure of seeing the ball at all times. His teammates in the wall must do their job by holding firm and denying the ball from going through it.
Watch all Emmanuel Michael’s free kick goals in the video below.
Cheick Compaore (Burkinabe Defender) vs Precious Williams (Nigerian Striker)
The Burkinabe center back has been immense for his side and has barely put a foot wrong in the entire competition. He comes up against Nigeria’s captain and striker Precious Williams who has scored twice in the tournament. The ability of Williams to drift wide and swap places with one of the wide players has been key to the fluidity of the Nigerian attack. Compaore will have the task of tracking his movement when he is in and around the box. When he drifts wide the defender must be vocal and pass the striker on to others. The defender’s awareness of how these movements develop will be crucial in shutting him out. Williams can find some joy when Burkina Faso’s industrious right back, Bamba overlaps and Compaore has to shift over to cover for him.
Arouna Ouattara (Burkinabe Defensive Midfielder) vs Ebube Okere (Nigerian Attacking Midfielder)
Arouna Ouattara has been reliable for Burkina Faso in his defensive midfield role for Burkina Faso. That probably explains why he got himself booked in the opening minutes against Ghana but was still kept on till full-time. His ability and instinct to sniff danger and cut it out has been remarkable. But he comes up against Ebube Okere, the playmaker in this Nigerian side. Okere’s eye for pass and quality to apply the right weight to it sets the tone for most of Nigeria’s attacks. He is quick, strong and skillful and that is why Burkina Faso will be hoping Ouattara sniffs and cuts him out.
So now then. Burkina Faso and Nigeria, the best teams in the competition are 90 minutes away from winning gold. The competition has not recorded any stalemate with all games producing a winner in regulation time. But with two teams of equal prowess one must wonder if the game might require penalty shootouts to decide the winner. Perhaps the trend will continue with a winner being produced in 90 minutes. There is only one certainty – it is a fixture of fine margins. It is expected to be a great team contest with great individual talents on show. In a tournament that has often favored the best team on the day, may the best team win.