In October 1992, the little east African nation of Burundi was excitedly looking forward to its first-ever home FIFA World Cup™ qualifier. Yet with mighty Ghana lying in wait, no-one gave the African Zone's new boys an chance. What followed was one of the continent's great upsets.
25 October 1992, Stade Prince Louis Rwagasore, Bujumbura
Burundi 1-0 Ghana
Scorer: Nabimana 78'
Burundi: Habarugira, Kimanda, Ngango, Mwilamiwe, Barakanfitiye, Saidi, G Nzeyimana, Nyagato (L Nzeyimana 64), Nabimana, Nahimana, Wembo.
Ghana: Damba, Amankwah, Asare, Acheampomng, Baffoe, Aborah, Rahman (Amadu 61), Quaye (Odoi 78), Yeboah, K Ayew, Akonnor.
African qualifiers for the 1994 FIFA World Cup were staged over two group phases, a departure from the knockout format used in previous preliminary competitions. This represented an opportunity for the continent's smaller footballing nations, who traditionally faced elimination after just two matches, to prolong their involvement. Among these nations was Burundi.
The Burundians were making their FIFA World Cup qualifying debut and went into their first-ever preliminary competition hoping for a kind draw to ease them in. Instead, they were horrified when two genuine contenders, Algeria and Ghana, were pulled out of the hat to compete against them. Uganda were also in the group but withdrew, leaving Les Hirondelles to face the might of these continental giants alone. The experts agreed that the group would be won by whoever racked up the most goals against Burundi, for it stood to reason Algeria and Ghana would cancel each other out in their respective meetings and win home and away against the section's minnows.
Ghana were especially confident. It had been a good year for the nation's football, after all, with the Black Stars having reached the final of the CAF African Cup of Nations in Côte d'Ivoire before becoming the first African nation to win an Olympic football medal.
Ghana arrived in Burundi without star player Abedi Pele, leading to assertions on local radio that the Marseille star had deemed the game not serious enough take leave from his French club. Whether it was true or not, such talk served to inspire the home side to a heroic performance.
Goalkeeper Aime Kitenge, who watched from the sidelines after suffering a broken shin, remembers it well. "We ran them ragged," he recalled. "That day we played the ball on the ground and we were just faster than them. They had a lot of players from their Olympic team but also some slower ones, like Tony Baffoe and Tony Yeboah. We knew they would struggle without pace."
Ghana had their chances but the unfancied hosts grew in confidence as the game wore on. Then, just as the game looked destined to end goalless, Amani Nabimana stole in to score with just 12 minutes remaining. He had been one of the many changes that coach Baudouin Ribakare had made after losing their opening qualifier 3-1 at Algeria, a decision vindicated by this shock win.
Nabimana took the plaudits for the match-winning goal but it was a team effort from the determined Burundians that secured the biggest win in their history. Striker Adolphe Wembo had been busy, while tall defender Constantin Kimanda was also singled out for a commanding performance in handling the threat of Tony Yeboah.
"This was the big one for Burundi. It was such a shock to the Ghanaians but, for us, it was the biggest win ever. No one had given us a chance, the whole country was shocked... and then delirious with joy," Aime Kitenge, Burundi goalkeeper.
What happened next...
Their hopes seriously dented, Ghana needed to beat Algeria in their next group match - and they did. However, Algeria visited Burundi a month later and emerged with a 0-0 draw that enabled them to top the group by one point from the Black Stars and qualify for the final phase of African qualifiers. Ghana coach Otto Pfister was duly replaced by Romanian Petre Gaurila, while Burundi, after taking a point off Algeria, went on to give the Black Stars another scare, losing by just a single goal on Ghanaian soil. The small east African country had well and truly arrived on the African stage.