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Burkina Faso’s Aristide Bance celebrates after scoring a penalty during their African Cup of Nations semi-final against Ghana.
Burkina Faso’s Aristide Bance celebrates after scoring a penalty during their African Cup of Nations semi-final against Ghana.

African Cup of Nations: Bance helps raise the roof for Burkina Faso

Former Al Ahli striker is riding high with his Burkina Faso teammates ahead of the final, writes Ian Hawkey in South Africa

It was never like this for Aristide Bance when he was in Dubai. It has not been much like this for Bance in Augsburg lately, either.

Even in the early days of Burkina Faso's stealthy, determined run to the final of the African Cup of Nations, Bance may have been an eye-catching figure. He was not yet a lionised one.

But since Wednesday, the man with the blond baby-braids, shaven temples and a long zig-zagging club career behind him, has become a sudden pin-up, his name chanted in the streets of Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, the biggest cities in Burkina Faso, for the two moments above all that ensured his country set a new high-water mark for their football.

Bance's equalising goal against Ghana in Nelspruit swung the momentum the way of the underdogs; his chipped penalty in the shoot-out after the 1-1 draw confirmed the surging confidence of his side.

"I have a few strings to my bow," Bance told RFI radio after Burkina Faso had won the shoot-out 3-2.

He also explained his penalty, and the potentially risky "Panenka", or "spooned", technique he had used.

"I had been studying the [Ghana] goalkeeper and how he reacts to penalties. I knew what I was going to do and I had the confidence."

Just as Burkina Faso's collective confidence has grown through the tournament, Bance's had swelled visibly from the moment he was selected, at centre-forward, for the most significant fixture the Burkinabe had known in 15 years - since, in their own capital, Ouagadougout, they lost their only previous African Cup semi-final.

Bance, criticised heavily at home for his showings in the first two group-phase matches, and dropped from the starting XI for the next pair of matches, had been mildly surprised to learn from Paul Put, the Belgian coach of Burkina Faso, he would be leading the line against Ghana.

Burkina Faso's top scorer for the tournament, Alain Traore, was unavailable, as he will be again tomorrow in the final against Nigeria, and Burkina Faso's captain and all-time leading scorer, Momo Dagano, was left out in favour of Bance.

Put's surprise faith in Bance, the 28-year-old striker, would be rewarded. "He knows how to talk to his players and he regards us all as equals," Bance said of Put.

"Even those on the bench have felt happy for our teammates. We are like a family."

Bance has not always felt like that sitting on the margins. Three years ago, disagreements with the Burkina Faso coach at the time, the Portuguese Paolo Duarte, led to his missing the 2010 tournament.

A year ago, he looked uncomfortable, playing in a wide striking position, as Burkina Faso made what had become their regular first-phase exit of the African Cup. Omens seemed discouraging when Bance arrived in South Africa last month, short of club form, frustrated at the first six months of his latest club employment, at Augsburg, in Germany.

He has started just four Bundesliga matches, come off the bench in 11. He has yet to score for them.

A previous spell, with Mainz, in Germany, where he scored 24 goals in 62 games, had recommended him to Augsburg.

Mainz had also been the freshest entry on a rambling CV. He served an apprenticeship in Ivory Coast, where had been born to two Burkinabe parents, ahead of a transfer from his Burkinabe club, Santos Ougadougou, to Belgium, then on to Ukraine, then Germany and to the Pro League with Al Ahli in 2010.

He failed to impress with Ahli, and after seven league games he moved on loan to Umm Salal in Qatar and then, again on loan, to Samsunspor in Turkey.

Each of those clubs recognised potential, and some obvious qualities: a physical prowess, combativeness in the penalty area and outside it, and, if the coiffeur is any sort of indication, a footballer not inclined to hide away.

"I am a battler, a striker who always gives 100 per cent, and puts in energy to defending as well as going forward," Bance said of himself after celebrating the finest hour of his professional career.

Or, at least, the finest hour so far.

Bance does not mind Burkina Faso being considered the underdogs for the final.

"There are no favourites in a Nations Cup, I always think," he said.

"It is not the players who are with the big clubs in the world who come out on top. Look at Zambia last year. They had that solid group that we have now. Often it's those who battle hardest who come through."

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