A fine second-half strike from Josh Simpson saw Canada stun previously undefeated Burkina Faso on 8 December 2003 at the Al Nahyan stadium in Abu Dhabi. With a fine combination of scrap and skill, the North Americans became the only men’s side from the Great White North to reach the Last Eight of a FIFA finals, and the only side at UAE 2003 to take a goal off the Honest Men of Burkina Faso. Canada will now play either Paraguay or Spain, who meet on 9 December in Al Ain.
The Canadians came out in bright mood. A fine through ball from Josh Simpson sent battling striker Iain Hume in toward goal. And his quick snapshot had Daouda Diakite looking worried. But in the end it slipped past the far post (5’). Just minutes later, a fine long ball from Jason Ditullio found the young striker again streaking into space. But his first-time volley under pressure went wide of the near post (8’).
Despite the good early Canadian work, Burkina Faso were in no way overawed. And when Amadou Coulibaly raced to save a long ball from the end line, his cross picked out Hamada Ouedraogo on the edge of the goal box. A fine first-time volley with his left foot was only just smothered safely by keeper Alim Karim (24’).
It was again the Burkinabe heading up the pitch to create the final half chance of the half. Turning well and busting into space, Ouedraogo’s forceful shot from 25 metres sailed fractionally over Karim’s crossbar(43’). And just seconds later Coulibaly tried a wicked curling shot from way out on the right. But Karim was well up to the task, pushing the strike wide of the post (44’).
But with very few real chances of any consequence, the fractured first half - dominated primarily by cut-and-thrust midfield scrap - ended scoreless.
Burkina Faso came out of the dressing room stalking a goal. And by sending on striker Aristide Bance, one of only two Burkinabe goal scorers at the finals, in minute 50, coach Mart Nooij made his attacking intentions clear.
Despite the pressure, the rough-and-tumble North Americans were also surging forward admirably. Kevin Harmse really should have done better with his right-footed shot from just outside the box, but Diakite had only to watch it roll weakly past his post (52’). P>The North Americans’ grit and endeavour, intermingled with no mean amount of style, finally paid dividends a quarter-hour into the second half. Collecting the ball at the left-hand corner of the area, central midfielder Josh Simpson fired an absolute stunner with his left foot to the top corner to break the nervy deadlock and breach Diakite’s goal for the first time at these finals (0-1, 60’).
The Africans, stunned into response, nearly drew level not long after. Ouedraogo flicked Amara Ouattara’s free kick at goal, but Karim was Johnny-on-the-spot once more to snatch the sneaky attempt (63’).
As the half wound down the Canadians found themselves hanging on to their slimmest of leads for dear life as Burkina Faso poured on the pressure in a desperate bid to haul themselves back into the match. Ousseni Zongo had the best chance deep into stoppage time, but his ferocious volley was bravely kept out by Karim. In the end, it was just enough as the Canucks celebrated wildly after the final whistle rang in warm evening sky.
“This is beyond our wildest dreams,” said Canada coach Dale Mitchell after the match. “We have here a tight-knit group of boys who believe in themselves and they’ve done an amazing thing here. We tried to defend well and play behind the ball, looking to take advantage of our speed on the counter-attack. In the end it paid off. It’s a great day for Canadian football.”