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Soccer-Burkina Faso chase place in first Nations Cup final

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Mark Gleeson

NELSPRUIT, South Africa, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Burkina Faso hope to break new ground and book a first African Nations Cup final appearance when they 'host' Ghana in Nelspruit on Wednesday.

The west African country take on their southern neighbours at the Mbombela Stadium (1830 GMT), which they say has become something of a fortress for them after four undefeated matches in the provincial town.

Mali and Nigeria meet earlier in Durban (1500) in the first of Wednesday's semi-finals, with little to chose between the two teams.

While Mali's experience has delivered a midfield proficiency unmatched in the tournament, Nigeria overcame a stuttering start to knock out highly fancied Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals on Sunday.

A new-found belief offers Nigeria a quick return on an inexperienced squad of players who coach Stephen Keshi said before the tournament were still in a transition phase and being nurtured for long-term success.

It also gives one of African football's heavyweight contenders a chance to re-establish their credentials after several years in the doldrums.

Mali, whose country has been wracked by conflict, are chasing only their second appearance in the final, 41 years after the last one.

Burkina Faso are the only one of the semifinalists who have never before played in a deciding match at the African championship. Their only previous semi-final appearance was when they hosted the tournament in 1998.

"It will be our fifth game at the Mbombela Stadium, which is a psychological advantage for us. We know the pitch will be equally bad for both teams but in our heads we know we can play on it," said coach Paul Put of the sandy surface which has drawn heavy criticism.

For Ghana it is a fourth successive semi-final appearance but their last Nations Cup triumph was in 1982, when coach Kwesi Appiah was a squad member. (Editing by Clare Fallon)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130205/soccer-burkina-faso-chase-place-first-nations-cup-final