The African Cup of Nations has gained a reputation for shining a golden light on the underdog. Last time out it was Zambia who shook the continent and the world. Tomorrow it is Burkina Faso’s opportunity to secure a fairytale triumph.
Ahead of their final clash with Nigeria we spoke – courtesy of Puma – to the Stallion’s flying winger Jonathan Pitroipa on what impact victory could have on a vibrant but troubled country.
How are you and the team feeling about the qualification for the final of the Africa Cup of Nations?
We are extremely happy, particularly because we haven’t reached the knock-out stage of this tournament for quite a while. Now, we have qualified for the final and not many people expected to see us go that far. Even we did not expect to make it to the knock-out stage, however we started to believe in ourselves more and more which gave us the strength to make it to the final. The fact that we reached the quarter-final already gave us the feeling that have a great team and that we could even do better. In the semi-final, we were so motivated and committed to win the game and I think we deserved it. Now everything is going well and we are all focused on the final. We will give our best and we will see. One thing is sure: we are relaxed, we will play this game the way we are used to playing. And I hope that we will win on Sunday.
Did you set yourself a specific goal ahead of the competition? Were you expecting such a great team performance? How did it happen?
Yes, our goal at the beginning was to progress past the group stage, because it has been almost 15 years since we have done this. The last time we reached the semi-final was 1998 in Burkina Faso. Since then, we haven`t made it to the knock-out stage as we always have some trouble in big competitions, which caused a lot of disappointment. But we have been working together as a team for a while now and we knew we had a great squad. We noticed that we were not far from being successful in the previous CANs, but something was always missing. I think that this CAN has been a trigger and everything was going well. Of course we have set ourselves goals, but never to win the competition.
Did you see a few of Nigeria’s games before you played against them? Did you try to observe them playing, to know which players you have to keep an eye on, and to know what are their strengths?
I think Nigeria is a very good team, I would say that they have a very good attack, they have great individual players who can make the difference anytime during the game. We played against them for our first game and we saw that this is a great team. It won’t be easy for us but after all I think we don’t have anything to lose, this is the final and we are going to play hard. We have a chance to win this final and everything is possible, the best and most motivated team is going to win.
Is it not hard to stay concentrated after the qualification for the final because there is probably some euphoria in the group? How are you dealing with that? Are you managing to stay concentrated and not to celebrate too much?
Yes of course. The team knows we have to stay concentrated, and I even think that our previous successes enable us to believe in our potential. We think that if we are at this stage of the competition, it is not thanks to luck but it is thanks to our work and thanks to the fact that the group believes in its qualities. We really have a great group, we stay compact when we play and we play hard. And I think we have to keep all these qualities and this motivation because this is what could make the difference for the final between two good teams.
You are unfortunately suspended for the final, how are you feeling about that? Will it not be too hard for you to watch the game from the bench?
Yes, it will of course be very difficult because I am really disappointed (ed note – since this interview took place Jonathan’s ban has been rescinded and he is now fit to play). I won’t play this final so I will support the team and even though I won’t be on the pitch, they will be fighting until the end. So even if I will be in the stand, I won’t be far away from them and I am sure they will play hard as we all now want to win this CAN. We will do the maximum, so we can be proud of our performance afterwards, no matter what the result may be.
Can you imagine the impact that a success would have on the whole Burkina Faso?
It would be an incredible success because at some point, nobody believed in us anymore. But I think a few people expected our generation one day to achieve something and we proved this year that we could do it. Some supporters in Burkina Faso believed in our generation of players and said that this generation was the one that could make an impact. And now, if we win this CAN, we would give something amazing to our people, and they would be happy to have the cup coming back home. They would be proud of us and we would also be proud of wearing the national team jersey. It would also bring some good things for the country in terms of image. And then Burkina Faso will maybe be considered as a growing football nation.
Do you feel the support of the country? Do you get lots of messages and have lots of requests from the press? And are you following the enthusiasm in Burkina Faso?
Yes of course, for every game we feel that the country is concentrated and ready to support us. After winning games, we see the joy and everything that happens in the country. We get messages and videos that show us they are pleased with our performances. It is very delightful for us to see the joy and happiness we can give them. And all this gives us the strength to achieve more great things. It motivates us to give this happiness to our population. I hope that we will bring this cup back to Ouagadougou to make everyone glad and happy. And I also hope we will celebrate it all together with the fans.
If you win the final, you will go to Brazil to compete in the Confederations Cup this summer to represent Africa, how would you feel about representing Africa and playing against Brazil, Spain, Italy and all these big soccer nations? Is it something that you are already thinking about?
I haven’t particularly thought about that even I have already heard about the Confederations Cup. For now and according to the fact that we have been focused on the CAN, we haven’t really thought about that in much detail. But it would really be a great thing, especially as it would be the first time for Burkina Faso, and it is not every day that people from everywhere in the world could see Burkina Faso playing. Of course it would be a pleasure to represent Africa in this competition. It proves that we have improved a lot, and that we have passion and talent. For us it would important to represent Africa in a good way. We wouldn’t go there just to lose games and not be able to prove that Africa is also has “football nations” and is a part of the world with good players. We will play with passion to get this opportunity because if we go to Brazil, it wouldn’t be only for the Burkina Faso but for the whole of Africa. We will play hard and for now, we are staying focused on this CAN, because this is what counts now. And then only after that, we would be able to see how we could prepare for the Confederations Cup. I really hope that we will win this cup and why not go to Brazil, it would be a delight for our country and for our generation to be part of that.
Find out more from the Burkina Faso team and African Football at www.puma.com/africanfootball