Stallions striding to success
© AFP

Burkina Faso went into the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers unnoticed and largely unknown, yet less than a year later they have emerged as genuine contenders for a place in the finals.

At the same time, the Burkinabe continue to ascend the FIFA Coca-Cola World Rankings, rising again this month to 56th, an impressive climb of 10 places. This latest leap has, in fact, taken them to within two places of their highest-ever position of 54, which was achieved two years ago.

Les Etalons, 'the Stallions', do boast several stars on the books of high-profile European clubs, but they were not considered by the pundits to be among the likely runners when the race to South Africa 2010 first began. However, a burst of two goals in the final 10 minutes of their opening qualifying tie last June set Burkina Faso off on an unbeaten run that has caused everyone in the continent to sit up and take notice.

Just last month, they kicked off the final phase of African Zone qualifiers with a convincing 4-2 home win over Guinea, emphasising their intent and impressive potential. With Angola and Togo having emerged as Africa's surprise packages in qualifying for the last FIFA World Cup in Germany, the Burkinabe could yet turn out to be another unexpected offering from the continent for South Africa 2010.

Deadly Dagano leads the charge
The man at the helm is Paulo Duarte, and the Portuguese coach leads a talented side that includes the likes of Jonathan Pitroipa from Bundesliga contenders Hamburg, and Charles Kabore, currently chasing the Ligue 1 title with Marseille. Together, they have proved a formidable force, with Burkina Faso one of only four sides who ended the first phase of qualifiers unbeaten; their campaign beginning with an unlikely 2-1 away win over Tunisia.

Les Etalons shocked their hosts that day with two late strikes from Yssouf Kone, a striker who plays his club football Romanian champions CFR Cluj. The confidence that flowed from this unexpected exploit proved crucial as Burkina Faso strode confidently onwards to win the group, finishing with 16 points out of a possible 18.

In the process, striker Moumouni Dagano emerged as the top scorer in the African qualifiers, eclipsing even the illustrious likes of Samuel Eto'o and Frederic Kanoute. Dagano, who previously played in France's Ligue 1 for Sochaux but is now earning a living in Qatar, scored seven goals in six matches and has since added two more in the second phase.

Burkina Faso are now focused continuing this FIFA World Cup qualifying success in June, when they travel to Malawi before entertaining group favourites Côte d'Ivoire. The Burkinabe have a long standing rivalry with the Elephants and a home win in Ouagadougou on 20 June could be the spur that propels Les Etalons towards the finishing line.