By Petros Kausiyo
BULLISH Burundi flew into the country yesterday for their 2013 African Cup of Nations first round second leg clash against Zimbabwe at the National Sports Stadium and immediately warned the Warriors to brace for another upset on Sunday.
The Swallows have the advantage going into Sunday’s match following a 2-1 win they achieved in Bujumbura on February 29. That game marked the return of Warriors’ coach Rahman Gumbo to the Warriors fold after an eight-year absence while it was the end of Algerian gaffer Adel Amrouche’s tenure in charge of the Swallows dressing room.
The East Africans arrived in Harare with a new coach — Egyptian Lofty Naseem — but they believe that the changes have not affected their game and they were in bullish mood insisting the Warriors cannot block them from their “best chance to qualify for the African Cup of Nations’’.
Naseem, who is no stranger to Harare having been in the country in the mid 1980s as a player when Arab Contractors travelled to play in the then Cup of Cup Winners, tasked his assistant Niyongabo Amars with speaking about the match. Amars revealed that Naseem has only been in charge of Burundi in the last two months.
But the fact that the Swallows were knocked out of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers by Lesotho at the preliminary stage has meant that Sunday’s clash against the Warriors will be Naseem’s first competitive match in charge.
But his assistant Amars reckoned that their elimination from the World Cup qualifiers was somewhat a blessing in disguise as it gave them an opportunity to put all their focus and energy on the bid to qualify for next year’s Nations Cup in South Africa.
Amars said although they were expecting a tough encounter against the Warriors, he still believed his charges have the character and the capacity to upstage the hosts and continue with their dream for a Nations Cup debut.
The former goalkeeper, pointing to the changing landscape of African football, said Burundi — who were rated 131 on the Fifa rankings and 24 places below the Warriors — had also been improving on their game since they embarked in a rebuilding exercise.
Amars said their 2-1 win over Zimbabwe in which their skipper and centre back Valery Nahayo grabbed a late winner was no fluke. “Anyone who thinks the result in Bujumbura was a fluke doesn’t quite know African football and the changes that have been happening on the continent. Look at Zambia, they won the Nations Cup with more players who play in Africa for clubs in DRC and South Africa.”
But for all their confidence, the Swallows also revealed they had respect for the Warriors whose own camp is suffering from a confidence crisis and appears to be weighed down each day by seemingly endless off-field problems.
In fact the Warriors game in the last three weeks has been played more off the field than on the pitch with the game’s environment being heavily polarised and politicised.
Despite the Swallows appearing the more focused side Amars also reckoned that the Warriors would still be favourites for the game by virtue of being the home side. “I think the return match will be different to what we saw when we were at home. Now we are away and the situation is different, Zimbabwe will be on familiar ground and of course they will have their supporters.
“But we will give it our best shot.” Amars said they were not reading much into the Warriors’ poor run of form and the problems the hosts may have had with their players. When they came to Burundi we heard that some of their players had been suspended, now we heard that some of them came back but that is not our problem. We are not worried about who they have or who they don’t . . . it will still be 11 versus 11.
“Yes we are confident but we also know that we could lose, win or draw. But we are not under any pressure because we are building a new team and we have young players. Burundi people are positive and have been very supportive,’’ said Amars with seven years experience as an assistant coach in the Burundi squad.
The Swallows also believe that the qualification route for the 2013 Nations Cup presented them with the best opportunity to qualify for the finals as it involves just two rounds of matches. “There is a big chance for Burundi to qualify because we know it’s just two rounds and we could be in the finals. We just have to stay positive and focused and we can qualify.
“In the past we had group qualifiers and you would always have two big teams in the group but now there is a bigger chance than before. Even though we have a new coach there has been continuity because most of our players are drawn from the local league. In our concept we don’t believe in any big name players or put much emphasis on anyone whether one is playing in Europe or not,’’ Amars said.
But for all their enthusiasm the Swallows are facing a Warriors side that has taken a lot of battering in the last three weeks and are desperate for a victory that could also turn them into heroes again. Gumbo and his men will continue with their preparations at the match venue knowing that only a win will do to rekindle the special bond they enjoyed with their supporters.
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