Burundi was drawn into a group composed of three teams – with Cameroon and Namibia – in the qualification phase for the 2023 AFCON. We thought qualification would be easy, but what a mistake!
On April 20th, 2022, the draw for the 34th Africa Cup of Nations, which will take place in Ivory Coast, occurred in South Africa. Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia, and Burundi were placed in Group C. However, a month later, Kenya was excluded due to political interference in their football federation, which FIFA had denounced and urged them to take action against. They failed to do so and were subsequently removed from the qualifiers, leaving the group with only three contenders.
When the news was announced, many fans of the Burundi national team jubilated. The mathematical odds of qualification increased from 25% to 33%, and some fans anticipated that it would not be difficult for Burundi to qualify alongside Cameroon, the mighty Indomitable Lions, since Namibia did not have a strong legacy in football.
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The first game of the group stage saw the Brave Warriors of Namibia hosting the Burundi Swallows in South Africa due to CAF’s bans on many stadiums across countries failing to meet FIFA’s required standards, which included Burundi. Namibia chose Johannesburg as the host location, and mandated that the game be played behind closed doors. The two teams drew 1-1, with Burundi equalizing in the 88th minute thanks to striker Bonfils Caleb Bimenyimana.
Each team earned a point, keeping the race for qualification open. In the next game, Burundi lost to Cameroon “at home”, although the match was played in Tanzania. Despite this setback, there was still hope as Burundi and Namibia each had 1 point. All eyes were now set on the two games between Namibia and Cameroon.
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Corrected passage: Cameroon secured a difficult 1-1 draw at home in the late minutes of the game, as Namibia managed to score one and set up a very rigid defense. “I think we should have done better, but I am proud of my players who managed to come back in the second half…we have learned, and the next game will be different,” said Cameroon’s head coach, Rigobert Song, to Canal+ . In the next game, played on March 28th in Johannesburg, Namibia caused an upset by defeating the Lions 2-1 and thereby taking the lead of the group with 5 points. Cameroon comes second with 4 points, and Burundi sits last with 1 point.
Can Burundi still qualify for the next AFCON?
Burundi is set to play Namibia in June and the last game against Cameroon in September. The only feasible way for the Burundi Swallows to remain in the race is to secure three points by defeating Namibia and aiming for at least a draw against Cameroon in their home match.
The situation is highly complicated for Etienne Ndayiragije, the new head coach of Burundi, who will need to devise ingenious strategies to make the dream of Burundi’s national team supporters of qualifying to the come true. In football, as in life, it’s all about preparations. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” said Tim Notke. And let’s not forget, it’s not over until the final whistle.