NELSPRUIT, South Africa (Reuters) - Burkina Faso scored the biggest win of the competition to date but it was three goalkeepers who took centre stage on a night of high drama in the African Nations Cup on Friday.
One scored a penalty, one was sent off and one accused a referee of making “one of the worst decisions in the history of football” after Burkina Faso beat Ethiopia 4-0 and champions Zambia needed a late controversial penalty to draw 1-1 with Nigeria in Group C.
The penalty scorer was Zambia’s keeper Kennedy Mweene, the keeper sent off was Burkina Faso’s Abdoulaye Soulama and the goalie whose remarks could land him in trouble with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) was Nigerian Vincent Enyeama.
The 30-year-old, who has plenty of experience from a long career in club and international football and is now plying his trade in Israel, pulled no punches when he was asked what he thought about the decision by Egyptian referee Grisha Ghead to award Zambia a penalty in the 85th minute.
It had looked a soft challenge by defender Ogenyi Onanzi on striker Emmanuel Mayuka.
“It was one of the worst decisions in the history of football,” Enyeama told reporters.
”It was the worst call I have seen live. It does not belong in football in my opinion. There is no place for a call like that in a match of this magnitude between the champions and Nigeria.
“What is happening to officiating in Africa if we have calls like that?”
Enyeama’s miserable night was completed when Mweene, his opposite number, strolled up from the other end of the field to beat him from the penalty spot and give Zambia a 1-1 draw which keeps them very much involved in the fight for a last eight place.
Mweene himself had faced a penalty earlier in the match, but managed to keep his goal intact without needing to make a save of his own after Nigerian playmaker John Obi Mikel fired his poorly struck penalty against the right hand post.
The keeper was beaten by a good strike from Emmanuel Emenike which gave Nigeria the lead, but otherwise had a good game.
Mweene said: ”It is hard enough for a goalkeeper to save a penalty, never mind score one, but I do practice them in training.
“It was a long walk from one end of the pitch to the other, but I just concentrated on scoring and that’s what I did.”
Mweene has now faced four penalties in the last four matches Zambia have played in the finals - the semi-final and final last year and the opening two games here, and none have been converted.
No goals were scored against Burkina Faso on Friday either as the west African outsiders took advantage of first-half injuries to Ethiopia’s Adane Girma and Asrat Megersa which fatally disrupted their rhythm after a bright start.
Two goalkeepers helped the Burkinabe keep a clean sheet - Soulama, who was sent off for a careless handball just outside his penalty area after 60 minutes, and substitute Daouda Diakite, who is likely to keep his place for the decider against Zambia as Soulama is suspended.
Burkina Faso, who had not won in the finals for 17 successive matches dating back to 1998 when they hosted the event, were lucky early on when Ethiopia’s Shimelese Bekele hit the post with Soulama stranded after just four minutes.
But there was nothing lucky about Burkina Faso’s opening goal, smashed in with a stunning left-foot rocket from Alain Traore which gave Zerihun Tadelle no chance.
Tadelle, only playing because goalkeeper Jemal Tassew was sent off against Zambia last Monday, was also helpless to stop Traore’s second left-foot piledriver after 74 minutes.
It was the start of a three-goal scoring burst over the next 21 minutes, including stoppage time, with Djakaridja Kone and Jonathan Pitroipa adding two more to complete the rout.
Burkina Faso now sit on top of the group with four points from their two matches, followed by Zambia and Nigeria with two and Ethiopia with one.
The climax will come next Tuesday when Zambia face Burkina Faso in Nelspruit and Nigeria play Ethiopia in Rustenburg.