Alain Traore produced two of the goals of the competition to lift 10-man Burkina Faso to a 4-0 win over Ethiopia on Friday and end their 18-match winless run at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Burkina’s last victory in the continental showcase came way back in 1998, but Traore ended that sorry state of affairs in style to push the west African nation to the top of Group C and within touching distance of the last eight.
And three of the goals came after goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama was red carded on the hour mark for handling outside his box.
Coached by Belgian Paul Put, this priceless win lifted them up to four points, with Zambia and Nigeria, who drew 1-1 earlier, on two and Ethiopia on one.
With quarterfinal qualification going down to the wire, Burkina Faso take on Zambia here while Ethiopia face Nigeria in Rustenburg, with both matches scheduled for Tuesday.
Lorient midfielder Traore earned a start on the strength of his starring role in bagging the equaliser deep in stoppage time against Nigeria on Monday.
And he fully repaid his coach’s confidence when scoring either side of the break, and setting up Djakaridja Kone for the third.
Zerihun Tadele was in goal for Ethiopia in the absence of Jemal Tassew, banned for two matches after his terrible tackle in their curtain-raiser against Zambia.
An all-too-common feature of this Nations Cup has been the depressing sight of row upon row of empty seats, but happily not here, with an estimated 20 000 Ethiopian fans filling the Mbombela Stadium.
With Nigeria and Zambia all square in the first leg of Friday’s double-header in Nelspruit, the Group C summit was there for the taking by one of these so-called lightweights.
And Ethiopia came racing out of the blocks, almost bagging a fourth-minute advantage when Shemeles Bekele raced on to Salahdin Said’s pass on the left of the area, his angled shot only denied by the far post.
Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw was forced into an early change of personnel, bringing on Behailu Assefa for a tearful Adane Girma, feeling the effects of an earlier knock to a delicate part of his body.
Burkina’s Wilfried Sanou had the ball in the back of the net in the 20th minute, but his effort was ruled offside.
In a high-voltage affair, Burkina were beginning to dominate.
And on 34 minutes the break they deserved came when Traore, from 10 yards out, let his left foot fly, the ball screaming into the top left corner of Tadele’s net.
This was the 24-year-old’s second goal of 2013, after scoring in stoppage time to earn Burkina a 1-1 draw against Nigeria.
With their neat, nimble footwork, Burkina were leading Ethiopia a merry dance until Soulama was sent off by Seychelles referee Camille Bernard.
Replacement ‘keeper Daouda Diakite came on with midfielder Sanou making way, and he did a great job in saving the resulting free-kick.
Traore made it three in 2013 with a superb half-volley in the 74th minute, before setting up Kone with 11 minutes left.
Jonathan Pitroipa rounded off the rout with the fourth deep in stoppage time.
Not even the appearance of a streaker, who entangled himself in the Ethiopian net, could take the gloss off Traore and his team’s night.
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