Burkina Faso came agonisingly close to qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, denied a place at the global showpiece by a single goal in their final match against Algeria. After stunning Gabon, Congo and Niger in the second round of qualifying, the Stallions – ranked 10th in Africa – were confident against the third-ranked North Africans in Ouagadougou, with a first-ever place in the World Cup within their grasp.
In the face of that historic possibility, Burkina Faso coach Paul Put called on 18-year-old Bertrand Traore at a key moment in the tie. And though the west Africans ultimately came up short, this promising young side banked the experience and are calling on it on the road to Russia 2018. “That loss was a huge disappointment,” Traore told FIFA.com. "We nearly made it, but it was not to be. We believe in ourselves though, and we are going to start a new adventure against Benin, and hopefully we will make it to the World Cup this time. We must remain focused and just fine-tune the team a bit."
Burkina Faso open their World Cup campaign against African minnows Benin in Cotonou on 12 November. The Stallions, who are now coached by former Gabon and Niger coach Gernot Rohr, go into their round two match as favourites, and are expected to advance to the next round, where they would compete in a round-robin tournament with three other teams. The five group winners will then advance to the finals in Russia.
Having been a fringe player during the last preliminary tournament, Traore is now considered as one of the most important players in the team, this despite the fact he has only just turned. "Bertrand is our most talented player,” Rohr told FIFA.com. “I think his club, Chelsea, have some plans for him. I know [Jose] Mourinho is is very interested in his development.”
An early start
Traore's senior national team career began a few days before his 16th birthday in September 2011, when he appeared in a friendly international against Equatorial Guinea. He had earlier gained international experience at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2009. Although he was the youngest player at the tournament, he featured in all four matches his team played. A year later, he became one of the youngest players to appear at the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
“I really enjoy playing for my national team," enthused the youngster. "My career is still very young, so my most significant moment with the side remains my first game with the national team, in my hometown, against Equatorial Guinea.”
Traore's brother Alain, who plays in Ligue 1 for Lorient, is also a member of the Burkina Faso national team. “Having my older brother in the Stallions team was a great help for me," acknowledged Bertrand. "As a result, it took me much less time to adapt and feel at home.”
In the run-up to the World Cup qualifier, Burkina Faso has not had the best of results, losing an AFCON qualifier 1-0 in Botswana, before bouncing back with a 2-0 victory against the Comoros. “That loss was a disappointment, but I think we played well," said Traore. "We just missed too many chances. But rather than delving on the past, we should think of the future and start a new cycle with the very good players we have. We remain focused on trying to get first place in the group and qualifying for AFCON 2017. Now, we have to win the four remaining games. It must be our only ambition.”
Traore joined Chelsea as a youth player from the Auxerre youth ranks before being loaned out to Vitesse Arnhem to gain some first-team experience. “During my loan period, things went very well for me - I ended up being the best goal-scorer of the team. Mourinho asked to have me back in Chelsea. I took it as a reward for the work that I had done.
”It is a great pleasure to be back as a Chelsea player. Now it is my ambition to play as many matches as I can, earn some game-time and bring my best to the team.”
Traore was given his official Chelsea debut in a 4-0 victory in the UEFA Champions League against Maccabi Tel-Aviv, when he came on in the second half. Soon after, he was given another opportunity to play in the Blues' Carling Cup match against Stoke.
Although he presently still spends most of his time on the substitutes' bench, he is content. “When you are as young as me, you are never a mature player. You still need to improve. You learn from being with such great players. What I can already bring to my team is my risk-taking and my ability to be decisive on the field.
"However, I do require a bit of discipline,” he concluded, showing an honesty and humility that should stand this highly rated youngster in good stead as he pursues his goals.