By Sam Crocker
As the sand was blown away, the team known as The Stallions emerged from their dusty capital of Ouagadougou, announcing their arrival on the scene of international football. Two years ago in South Africa, Burkina Faso’s kicked off their meteoric rise to the peak of African football, as they cemented themselves as one of the continents best and most likeable teams.
Reaching the final AFCON 2013, they stampeded their way to Johannesburg in a storm of attractive football and team cohesion – exemplifying that African teams do not need a single superstar to succeed at the intracontinental tournament. This time round, however, they will not have the surprise factor on their side. Now a known quantity, they overcame their unfortunate failure to qualify for the World Cup with another impressive qualifying campaign, with the same group of players once again producing the goods. Finishing second in their group behind a mightily impressive Gabon side, the same group of players who got them so far in 2013 will once again be looked to to assert themselves amongst the continent’s best, as they aim to show that last time was no fluke.
Whilst Gabon may be the team that are most likely to be the Burkina Faso of 2015, Angola and Lesotho proved no match for The Stallions, meaning they should be feeling positive. What is certain, however, is that they will be willed on by most of the continent.
Setting up in a 4-3-3, with two wingers flanking the central figure, Burkina Faso endorse a stylish brand of fast-paced, attacking football, based on a balance of strong defensive organisation and an insatiable appetite for offensive flair. A lot of their attack goes through winger Jonathan Pitroipa, who often has a free-role within the side, but also via the overlapping fullbacks and dynamic midfield three. The defence is the vital base which they build upon, who remain consistently disciplined and solid, conceding just three goals during the whole of AFCON 2013.
Team cohesion – This side has remained largely the same since Paul Put took over in 2012, and prides itself on having strength across the team without a single dominant ego. Whilst Pitroipa has emerged as the star of the team, he has become this in a context of a balanced team, in the benefitting the team over the individual. Their consistency too is second to none, going about their wins in a professional and secure manner – rarely dropping points against the weaker sides.
Lack of surprise factor – Their performance at the last edition came slightly out of the blue, but their continuation of form in their World Cup qualifying campaign and this one means people are very aware of their quality. Whilst this may not phase them, it undoubtedly impacts on the opposition’s plan when facing them, so a repeat of the same heroics may sadly be less likely.
A lack of striker is also a potential issue. Alain Traore tends to drift in and out of injury, and Aristide Bance – whilst clearly a wonderful human – is not always the most prolific of goalscorers.
Jonathan Pitroipa – Named Player of the Tournament at AFCON 2013, there is no player in Africa better at turning it on for his country. Not even a summer move to the UAE has dampened his enthusiasm, scoring five goals in this qualifying campaign. With his domestic form throughout his career always being incomparable to when he plays for Burkina Faso, expect dazzling football from the Stallions’ finest specimen.
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Charles Kabore – The quarterback of the team, the Burkina Faso captain plays a vital role in the side, dictating the tempo with his excellent passing ability. Sitting deep, he spreads passes across the pitch, controlling everything his side do – filling in defensively when required as well.
Paul Put – A representation the obscure, loveable nature of the side he coaches, he is perfect Burkina Faso. Involved in a betting scandal in his native Belgium prior to 2012, his relationship with all his players is a beautiful and
and underappreciated aspect of this side. Finding a second home in Ouagadougou, he works for the players, and the players work for him.
Runners-up – In one of the most open tournaments in years, anything is possible, but a favourable draw once they get out of the group could see a relatively straightforward run to the final once more.