At the turn of the century, Burkina Faso had a 'golden generation' of young footballers - and had plenty to show for it. In 1999 and 2001, they qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, finishing third in the latter case, and in 2003, they were one of Africa's representatives at the U-20 World Cup. Since then, there has been an expectation that the full national team would benefit from the crop of Stallions players tested at the global level, but they have never come close to replicating qualification for the FIFA World Cup™.
However, the senior side is now one match away from making history by reaching their first-ever finals. Leading Algeria 3-2 from the home leg of a two-legged play-off tie, Burkina Faso like their chances of being the latest west African revelation, this time at Brazil 2014. FIFA.com takes a look at the side, which has made such a dramatic up-swing since being ranked 92 in the world earlier this year. At that point, they were bottom of their group in the World Cup qualifying campaign without a point - six behind the leading Congolese side and seemingly out of the running. All of that changed though, when the Stallions enjoyed their best-ever appearance at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa in January and February.
A total turnaround
Coached by Belgian Paul Put, the side topped their group ahead of eventual champions Nigeria and defending champions Zambia, and they then knocked out Togo and Ghana in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively. Defender Saidou Panandetiguiri, who is the only player who was in the Burkina Faso squad at both the U-17 and U-20 World Cup finals and remains a regular in the national team explains that things turned around immediately following the AFCON run.
"We started believing in our chances to qualify for the World Cup after South Africa, where we played in the final against Nigeria. Even though we lost that, we played very well throughout the tournament, which gave us a lot of confidence. After that we said that we had started with zero points in the World Cup qualifiers, but we can win [our last four] games.
"We put pressure on ourselves to do that, and we managed to. Now we are 90 minutes away from Brazil, and we can't let Algeria take the place. We will do everything in our power to qualify after managing to come all of this way back after starting with zero points."
Although the Burkinabe would qualify for Brazil with a draw, the 29-year-old Panandetiguiri, who has over 50 international appearances and has played in 23 World Cup qualifiers over three campaigns, is adamant that the side will not go to Algeria to defend. "It will be bad if we go there to draw. We have to go there to win. If we go to play defensively, it will be difficult. We have to try to play in their half."
But the versatile defender expects a tough contest from the South Africa 2010 veterans. "We know it is not going to be easy, we know if you want to fight for the World Cup you have to work hard. The game against Algeria will be a very, very hard game. Algeria scored two goals in Burkina Faso and know they just need to win, but we have a strong team, and I think we can get a result in Algeria."
It seems likely that the Stallions will be playing the return leg without leading striker Aristide Bance, who played in the 2003 U-20s and scored the winner in Ouagadougou in the first leg, but has re-injured a broken arm. "Bance is a good player, everybody knows that. But if he can't play, we will have to find a way to replace him."
Helping the younger generation
Panandetiguiri, who has played for clubs in Germany, France, Spain and Belgium and currently plays his club football in South Africa for Chippa United, says that the more experienced players in the Burkina Faso side have taken on a mentoring role for the younger players. "Playing at the under-17 and under-20 World Cups was a terrific experience for me, but I am sure going to Brazil will be even better. I tell the younger players what the ambiance playing on the world stage is like."
However, he also says it's important for the more experienced players to keep emotions under control. "Youngsters should not to put too much pressure on themselves. We tell them they need to be relaxed. We need to play every game like we did in the AFCON and then we can do anything. If everybody starts to play like Maradona, we can't do anything. To beat Algeria, we need to be ourselves. Many players in our team have the experience of playing in big teams in Europe. They know about playing at a high level and if we want to go to the World Cup we have to be like the big players, but we still have to be a team."