Helping to defend the colours of Africa and the reputation Burkina Faso garnered for themselves in becoming continental champions earlier this year will be the top priority as the team head to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico next month.
Rui Vieria, the Portuguese trainer who led the west African country to glory at January's African U-17 Championships in Rwanda, knows it is important to ensure they build on that success by making a solid showing on the world stage. However, he cautions that expectations, which are surely soaring in the country that openly celebrated lifting the U-17 trophy, must be managed and realism must be emphasised.
Although they impressed in the finals – beating Senegal, fellow qualifiers Egypt, Congo and gaining ultimate revenge on the hosts who topped them in the tournament opener – the Burkinabe know that going to Mexico for the world championship will be a very different task. “We gained experience at a tough event at the African championship, but we must realise that this will be against the best sides in the world, many of them from established footballing nations,” the 48-year-old from Vila Real told FIFA.com. “We are going to play the best teams, not only Africa, so we go to Mexico with lots of ambition but we also know it is a difficult tournament to win.”
In terms of expectations, confidence is justly high after a first-ever continental title for the country of under 17 million people, and the coach is aiming for a place among the elite. “There are so many good teams,” Vieria says. “The sides that have just qualified from Europe plus Brazil and Argentina from South America. And the other African teams also. It promises to be a very strong competition, but our hopes will be a quarter-final placing, maybe a semi-final. That would be a wonderful achievement.”
Building for more success
Vieria has won widespread plaudits for his work with the under-17 team as part of a Portuguese coaching revolution in Burkinabe football, where the senior national team is coached by former Uniao Leiria player and coach Paolo Duarte. After the glory in January, where Vieria was credited with lifting the team after the opening defeat to Rwanda, there was a private jet and a heroes welcome when the squad returned home, and the coach has been working hard ever since to keep up the momentum.
“There is no junior championship here, so we have been able to work with the players almost every day,” he says from Ouagadougou. It is an advantage many of the other teams heading to Mexico do not have, but at the same time, the absence of any league has meant months of scouting across the west African country for the best players. “We have searched the entire land looking for talent. We saw a lot of games,” he explains.
From an initial group of 60 players chosen in those travels, the coaching staff now has 30 in training. All are locally based, meaning they are immediately available. Vieria will be whittling down the squad size even further when they head to Nazare, on the coast just north of the Portuguese capital Lisbon for a 10-day camp at the end of May. “We have games lined up against the top clubs in Portugal: Porto, Benfica, Sporting," says Vieria. "After that we go directly to Mexico with enough time to be able to acclimatise.
"We have a very capable team," he added. "I think we’ll play well, and we’ll do ourselves proud."