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Put, Burkina leave S. Africa with heads held high
Published : 10 Feb 2013 22:46:58
You have to be big when you lose and humble when you win -- so said coach Paul Put as Burkina Faso's incredible Africa Cup of Nations adventure finally came to a end.
Sunday's gallant 1-0 loss in the final to Nigeria may not have delivered the title they had craved, but the Burkinabe left South Africa as major winners.
And it was Put who masterminded the Stallions' transformation from no-hopers to beaten finalists.
The Belgian commented: "No one was expecting these results, there's still a long way to go, though. I think the next thing is to talk to the federation, the team did a great job, but there's still a long way to go."
The Burkinabe arrived in South Africa among the rank outsiders and on a 17-match winless run, but a liberating 4-0 rout of Ethiopia in their second game injected some much-needed confidence into their play.
They followed that up by holding defending champions Zambia to a 0-0 draw, before seeing off Togo and Ghana to book their improbable ticket to Soccer City stadium.
It seemed at times that the footballing gods, and a certain referee from Tunisia, were against them, though, as they battled to overcome injury to their star player Alain Traore, and Jonathan Pitroipa's sending off in the semi-final.
The Rennes attacking midfielder was red carded for diving, a call that was later rescinded, enabling Pitroipa to start the final.
Pitroipa, named as player of the tournament, said: "There are lots of regrets, but the fact that we made it to the final is already a good sign of a decent journey.
"We showed great spirit, we're disappointed, we're happy to be here but we can still do better."
Put declined to single him out for special mention, commenting: "Pitroipa is important, but I'm happy with the whole team. I have to thank all my players, everyone's done a great job."
The two finalists were meeting for the second time in South Africa, having been drawn in Group C in the first round with that encounter resulting in a 1-1 draw.
Put said: "Nigeria have grown in maturity since our first meeting, and Burkina, too, have grown. I'm very proud of our maturity.
"We showed a bit too much respect for Nigeria in the first half, in the second we were trying to do everything in possession.
"We were possibly a little tired after two extra-time games but I don't want to make excuses, we saw a team out there fighting till the last minute, the whole of Burkina Faso can be proud of their players.
"In football you have to be big when you lose, and small when you win."