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By Mark Gleeson
NELSPRUIT, South Africa, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Burkina Faso won a first African Nations Cup final place on Wednesday after a sensational penalty shootout win over Ghana but will take the field on Sunday without key player Jonathan Pitroipa who was shown a controversial red card.
Burkina, who will meet Nigeria at Soccer City, edged their neighbours 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at the end of extra time in the semi-final at the Mbombela Stadium to continue the dream run by a team who started as rank outsiders.
They won their group, eliminating defending champions Zambia, and won both their knockout stage matches after extra time.
But their joy was tempered by the news that Pitroipa will not play on Sunday after he was sent off near the end of extra time after receiving a second caution for simulation.
Burkina Faso said they would be launching an immediate protest to overturn the card handed by Tunisia referee Slim Jdidi.
"It was a scandalous decision," said Burkina Faso coach Paul Put after the final whistle. "The performance of the referee was nowhere near the level of the game."
Burkina Faso rallied after conceding an early penalty, the start of a series of controversial decisions, one of which resulted in Ghana taking a 13th-minute lead through Mubarak Wakaso.
It was his third successful penalty of the tournament but was awarded after an innocuous looking challenge from fullback Mady Panandetiguiri on Ghana's Christian Atsu in the penalty area.
However, the Burkinabe, despite the exertions of two hours of football in Sunday's quarter-final win over Togo, came back strongly to equalise on the hour mark.
A key tackle in midfield from Florent Rouamba turned over possession and allowed tall striker Aristides Bance to place the ball wide of goalkeeper Fatau Dauda.
Minutes before a powerful header from the German-based striker had just been kept from going in by a goal-line save by Dauda while Ghana's captain Asamoah Gyan, almost immediately at the other end, had hit the woodwork as he broke free from the Burkinabe defence.
Both sides continued to create chances, increasingly so in extra time despite visibly tiring legs.
Harrison Afful had a shot tipped over the crossbar in the 95th minute while Bance, with his striking dyed blond hairstyle, squandered three good chances as the drama reached a crescendo
Bance had one more chance after being set up by captain Charles Kabore with eight minutes left but his shot hit Afful on the knees and somehow looped over the crossbar
In the penalty shootout Ghana missed first to hand the advantage to Burkina Faso but it was back at 2-2 after three kicks each.
Then Emmanuel Clottey missed, Bance scored with a cheeky chip and a save from Daouda Diakite sealed Burkina's final place.
"When we came go this tournament the only one who believed in us was the coach," said Kabore. "We just hope now the red card will be overruled." (Editing by John Mehaffey)