Minnows Burkina Faso overcame an embarrassing refereeing display to shock Ghana 3-2 on penalties to reach their first African Cup of Nations final, where they will face Nigeria.
After a 1-1 draw in normal time, the Burkinabes dominated extra-time but could not find a breakthrough, with Jonathan Pitroipa incorrectly shown a second yellow card for diving. He will miss the final.
Burkina Faso won the shoot-out 3-2 to go one better than their semi-final appearance in 1998, when they were hosts.
CAF could still overturn Pitroipa’s dismissal, but the rules state bookings can only be cancelled for mistaken identity.
Tunisian ref Slim Jdidi had awarded Ghana a soft penalty in the first half, which Mubarak Wakaso converted, having just rejected a Burkinabe penalty appeal with far greater merit.
He then disallowed Prejuce Nakoulma’s extra-time goal, deciding he had fouled John Boye in doing so.
The crowning glory came late in extra time, when Pitroipa was clearly tripped in the box by Boye, but Jdidi booked him for diving, before sending him off as he had already been carded.
In fairness to Ghana, they were also on the end of some odd decisions, such as that to only book Paul Koulibaly after he kicked Asamoah Gyan in the groin.
Burkina Faso ultimately should have won it in spite of the refereeing, with powerhouse striker Bance missing two good chances and seeing another cleared off the line by Harrison Afful.
However, the Augsburg target man was a hero in the end as his cheeky ‘Panenka’ penalty proved to be the winner, with Douda Diakite brilliantly saving from Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu to send the Stallions into their first final.
It was an unusual if entertaining match, played on the now infamous rotten pitch at the Mbombela, effectively home advantage for Burkina Faso as they have played there throughout these finals.
Ghana, who were unconvincing in their quarter-final win over Cape Verde, were also not helped by the loss of two key players to injury. Full-back John Pantsil appeared to snap his hamstring on seven minutes, while Mohamed Rabiu picked up a knock late in the first half and was replaced after failing to run it off.
Despite having better possession and attacking with more frequency, Burkina Faso found themselves behind early on when Jdidi decided that Saidu Panandetiguiri had fouled Christian Atsu when they rose for a header. The full-back’s leap was mistimed, but he did not appear to significantly touch the Porto winger.
Wakaso converted for his fourth goal of the finals, three of which have come from the spot.
Both sides had chances, with Nakoulma twice going close while Gyan and Solomon Asante had decent efforts.
Meanwhile, the referee had denied both sides more obvious penalties when Pitroipa was shoved by Boye while Koulibaly seemed to foul Agyemang-Badu in the box.
The second half saw both create chances, as a towering Bance header hit the bar before Gyan hit the post after Atsu’s cross.
Burkina Faso were playing more positively and deserved to equalise when Bance rolled it home after a fantastic Charles Kabore through-ball.
With a quarter-of-an-hour left referee Jdid came into his own. Gyan sent a header inches wide when Koulibaly – who was hitting the deck after rising to challenge him – lashed out, kicking the ex-Sunderland striker in the genitals.
Either the referee saw it, or did not, meaning it was either a red, or nothing: he booked Koulibaly.
Extra-time saw Afful and Gyan go close for Ghana but Burkina Faso had the greater chances. Bakary Kone put a free header over the bar, Nakoulma saw one disallowed, Bance missed two good opportunities and was denied another by Afful’s remarkable goal-line block, while Koulibaly saw a shot saved by Abdul Fatawu Dauda.
On 116 minutes Pitroipa was chopped down just inside the box by Boye. Jdidi brandished yellow and then red cards as the former Hamburg winger trudged off to watch the remainder from the stands.
He kept his composure admirably, but could not contain his emotion, weeping after the shoot-out.
Isaac Vorsah missed a candidate for worst penalty of the year, with Emmanuel Clottey putting his wide. There was an element of justice when Koulibaly missed his, but Burkina Faso went back ahead when Bance impudently chipped the ball down the middle.
It fell to Agyemang-Badu, one of Ghana’s more celebrated players, but his kick was met by Diakite, who led the celebrations as Burkina Faso became the second outsider in two years to reach the final.
Zambia won last time and, with in-form Nigeria waiting, Paul Put’s side have a huge task to emulate them.