Burundi might be a tiny country but its national team players are ready to prove their might against continental giants when the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) kicks off on June 21 in Egypt.
The Swallows made history by sealing a maiden slot at Afcon after finishing second in their qualifying group with 10 points, four behind leaders Mali, and given Gabon, who have featured in the last three Afcon tournaments were in the same group, it was no mean achievement.
Burundi’s success was down to the togetherness of the team and despite being ranked 136th in the world, JS Kabylie striker Fiston Abdul Razak and captain Selemani Ndikumana, who have scored a combined 29 goals for their country, led the rest in defying the odds to earn their place at the high table of African football.
While Abdul Razak and Ndikumana were scoring the goals, they relied on a solid defence to keep things tight at the back. This defence had goalkeeper Justin Ndikumana and centre-back Omar Musa who both play for SportPesa Premier League side Sofapaka.
The two have been key to Safapaka’s title challenge so far, and while they do duty for their club, they have one eye on Egypt where they are set to take on Nigeria, Guinea and Madagascar in Group B.
“We have an interesting group but we are ready. Big teams like Nigeria and Guinea should give us heavy homework which is a good thing. Madagascar cannot also be overruled but anything is possible in football so we will go in as warriors,” said Ndikumana on the sidelines of a training session for Soafapaka in Nairobi yesterday.
He added: “We have fairly good experience and most of our players play on the continent so we can easily relate. The unity has been amazing and this is what will be our booster going forward.
What I know is that this tournament will be full of surprises and certainly Burundi will not be going to Egypt as tourists.”
His sentiments are shared by Musa, he said: “What is important is to approach each game seriously and also have fun. Obviously, we are underdogs even in our own group but ever since the qualifiers began, we agreed that the target was qualifying for Afcon. It is not mission impossible so we can utilise our chemistry to prove our doubters wrong.”