The coaches of the two teams contesting Sunday’s final of the Africa Cup of Nations last night hailed the decision of the organisers to rescind the red card handed to Burkina Faso striker Jonathan Pitroipa during the semi-final.
Pitroipa was sent off for two bookable offences in the game against Ghana. The second came in the dying stages of extra time after he fell in the penalty area.
Referee Slim Jdidi cautioned the 26-year-old for simulation and ordered him off the field.
Video replays suggested that Pitroipa had gone to ground after being fouled by Ghana defender John Boye.
Jdidi admitted his error after the game. And following the recommendation of the refereeing committee, the disciplinary board of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) overturned the red card.
"We are very happy that CAF made the decision to allow Jonathan to play the final," says Burkina Faso boss Paul Put. "A lot of people will come on Sunday so they can see players like Pitroipa. So obviously we are happy as he’s important to our team but also I think supporters will be happy.”
The Rennes striker has been in scintillating form at the tournament. In addition to his two goals – most notably his winner in the quarter-final against Togo, his speed, movement and dribbling ability have been constant irritants to opposition defences.
His absence would have been a significant blow to Put’s team which lost striker Alain Traoré to injury during the final Group C game against Zambia a week ago in Nelspruit.
It would also have been one of the most glaring injustices in a litany of refereeing mistakes and misinterpretations witnessed at the 29th Cup of Nations.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi backed CAF’s decision even though it could prove fatal to his side’s hopes of lifting the title for the first time since 1994. The ruling could also rob the 51-year-old of the honour of becoming only the second man after Mahmoud El-Gohary to collect the Cup of Nations as a player and as a coach.
“Winning the trophy is not about Stephen Keshi, it’s about my country, my nation," Keshi says. "It’s about putting a smile, happiness and joy on their faces. I think Nigerians deserve this.
So, he explains, he welcomes the CAF decision taken.
"When you look at the video, it’s obvious that Pitroipa did not deserve a red card and I think it will be a good thing for the final because the 90,000 people coming to watch the final will want to see a good match. Having Jonathan and some of the other players will make it entertaining, so I’m happy for him.”
Nigeria have lifted the trophy twice in their history while Burkina Faso have never been in the final. Their progress is all the more remarkable as virtually the same set of players performed so abjectly at last year’s Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea that they failed to win a point.
“It’s not every day that you get to play in an Africa Cup of Nations final so denying him [Pitroipa] that without him committing any offence is a little bit tough so I’m really happy for him," Keshi says.