Burkina Faso have lofty ambitions for their trip to nearby Nigeria for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, hoping proximity to the host country and knowledge of the conditions will work in their favour.
Rainer Willfeld, who was only appointed to the coaching role two months ago, has set an initial target of advancing from the group and into the knockout stages for the junior Etalons. The class of 2009 have high standards to maintain with Burkina Faso finishing third after a stunning run at Trinidad and Tobago 2001.
The side have had to make several changes since qualifying from the African U-17 Championship in Algeria earlier this year after MRI tests revealed doubt over some of the ages. The team, who impressed in qualification conceding just one goal en route to a semi-final finish, have recently played two matches during a training camp in Germany followed by a further two matches in Lebanon. "Two months was perhaps not enough but we tried to get through as much work as possible," said the German, parachuted in to take charge of the side after initially arriving in Burkina Faso to work on coaching projects with street kids set up by the German embassy.
Willfeld had been earmarked to work in Mauritius this year but the chance to go to a FIFA tournament proved hard to resist. "I have been trying to prepare systematically," says Willfeld of his team's limited time together. "When we have the ball how we attack, how we play when our opponents have the ball, how the midfielders play, how we organise our defensive line, and things like that.
"It has been lot to learn to bring such organisation to the team in a short space of time. We have a team with very talented players but it remains to be seen if they have enough experience, even though they have learned a lot recently," the coach went on.
Those who have made the squad for the tournament in Nigeria, where the Burkinabe are drawn against Turkey, New Zealand and Costa Rica in Group D in Enugu, have undergone a heavy regime of preparation, some of it in Germany where Willfeld took the team for some intensive work and friendly matches against quality opponents. Burkina Faso will open their campaign against European representatives Turkey in what is shaping up to be a decisive match in determining the destiny of the group.
The team's captain Dalhata Soro led a delegation of 21 players who enjoyed an audience with the country's head of state Blaise Compaore at an official departure function earlier this week. "I'm promising the cup for the Burkinabe people," said the skipper, perhaps with a touch of youthful hyperbole.