14 May 2019 08:55
Burundi will be making their debut at the Total Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt and head coach Oliver Niyungeko has paid glowing tribute to the duo of Saido Berahino and Gael Bigirimana for the influence they had on their teammates in the process.
Though they scored a goal apiece in the qualification process, Niyuingeko says the role played by the two on and off the field was the biggest reason for their qualification.
Berahino turns out for Stoke City in the English second tier while Bigirimana, formerly with Newcastle plays for Hibernian in the Scottish top tier.
“We have many players turning out in other African countries and in Asia but the two had a very big influence in the team. When they came in, they gave a lot of motivation to the other players showing them that anything is possible and football can indeed change someone’s life.” Niyungeko told CAFonline.com.
“They influenced the players in a positive way and it made my work easier as a coach. They want their teammates to follow in their paths and told them that qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations would put their careers in a good place,” the tactician further stated.
Burundi qualified second from Group C ahead of Gabon who they held to 1-1 draws home and away. Berahino scored Burundi’s goal in the first leg away from home before Pierre Aymerick Aubameyang equalized for Gabon late on.
They also drew against Mali and beat South Sudan home and away to ensure their qualification with JS Kabilye striker Abdul Razak Fiston contributing seven goals in the process.
“It was such joy for me and my players and the entire country to earn this qualification and be in Egypt for the first time. We worked so hard for it and after getting a positive result in the first match, we knew that it was a possibility for us to qualify,” added Niyungeko.
Partying days over
“As much as we can celebrate, we can’t do it forever. The qualification is now behind our backs and the work has officially began for us. We have to work hard to prepare and work hard to do well in the tournament,” stated Niyungeko.
“My target is to ensure we do our best. We are not here to show weakness or participate. We are here to compete and show that our qualification was no fluke. There are 24 teams and each has equal chance and we are also part of that with an equal chance,”
“It is possible to reach any target we set and I believe in my players and that we can work hard and do well in this tournament,” he stated.
‘Les Hirondelles’ are housed in Alexandria-based Group B with Nigeria, Guinea and fellow first timers Madagascar as opponents, but Niyungeko is convinced his side can match the expectations of their followers.
“It is a very tough group because apart from Madagascar; Nigeria and Guinea are teams who have experience playing in this competition. We will do our best, take a match at a time and represent Burundi in the best way we can,” the home-grown tactician stated.
He also believes that having several players playing their trade outside Burundi is an added advantage. His first choice goalkeeper Justin Ndikumana plays in Kenya for Sofapaka same as defender Mousa Omar.
Skipper Karim Nizigiyimana who has had a tough last one year battling injury is currently in Uganda playing for Vipers having left Kenyan giants Gor Mahia at the end of last season.
Others like Selemani Ndikumana, Shassir Nahimana and Cedric Amissi all play in the gulf.
Sadly, for Niyungeko and his new team, they will be without midfielder Papy Faty, one of the key players in the journey to Egypt. Faty, 28, passed away on 25 April 2019 after collapsing during an Eswantini league match between his side Malanti Chiefs and Green Mamba.
The midfielder was an unused substitute in the 1-1 draw with Gabon that secured qualification. And it will be his last time with the national team.