Stallions gallop to higher ground

Football in Burkina Faso has not known too many months more pleasing than June 2008. Despite coach Paulo Duarte only occupying his post since March, the national team made a perfect start to their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying campaign, stringing together four straight victories in Group 9 of the African Zone.

That excellent return enabled Burkina Faso to shoot up 47 places on the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking, their greatest monthly march since the global ladder was established. They now lie 64th overall, just ten spots away from their highest-ever position, which was achieved in May of last year.

The talent running through the Burkinabe team is beyond doubt, but inconsistency has hampered their progress since July 2006. Their four straight successes last month showed precisely how well they can play, not least when they triumphed 2-1 in Tunisia, yet the Stallions are also capable of disappointing performances and their morale has tended to be fragile. Six consecutive losses, including their heavy 5-1 reverse away to Senegal in September 2007, plus a run of eight games without a win between March 2007 and May 2008, all testify to their unreliable form.

Youth and experience
The team has profited recently from the injection of new blood, in large part from the generation that shone so brightly at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2001. Led to a third-place finish by then-national coach Michel Jacques Yameogo, the Burkinabe drew against an Argentina line-up featuring Carlos Tevez and beat a Spanish side boasting both Fernando Torres and Andres Iniesta. The players involved in that famous run are now reaching maturity, so it has come as no surprise to see the likes of Saidou Panandetiguiri and Abdoul Aziz making the step up into the senior team.

Portuguese trainer Duarte can also depend on a number of proven talents currently demonstrating their worth in the European game, such as Marseille midfielder Charles Kabore and new Hamburg recruit Jonathan Pitroipa. But perhaps the real key to recent results has been the prolific form of Burkina Faso's strikers, with Yssouf Kone scoring twice in Tunisia and once against Seychelles to give himself a tally of three goals in 110 minutes, the best ratio in the African Zone. Likewise, Moumouni Dagano has excelled and currently tops the scoring charts courtesy of two strikes against Burundi and a hat-trick against Seychelles. With eight efforts between them, the duo can claim the credit for almost 75 per cent of Burkina Faso's goals.

The Stallions will be back in competitive action in just two months' time, giving them very little opportunity to bask in the glow of their great start. Tunisia are next on the agenda on 6 September, meaning top spot in Group 9 will be at stake, and after losing to the Burkinabe at home they are certain to be hungry for revenge. That is likely to be a stern test for Duarte and his troops, ahead of their theoretically more straightforward final encounter in Burundi the following month.

So can Burkina Faso carry on experiencing the winning feeling? Or will they slip once again back into old habits, despite having one foot already in Round 3 of qualifying?

Having struck at least two goals per game in their previous four outings, Mahamoudou Kere and Co ought to be more than capable of coming out of their last two fixtures unscathed - and should they do so they can expect to be taken extremely seriously further down the road to South Africa.