The Swallows of Burundi will, this summer, be attending their first African Cup of Nations finals in the history of the game.
Burundi made history after reaching their first-ever AFCON finals finishing ahead of South Sudan and Gabon in the qualifiers’ in Group C to qualify alongside Mali who led the group.
The Swallows’ squad contained a lot of unknown names for football fans and followers across the world. The team, however, boasts of former Stoke City striker Saido Berahino.
Burundi were drawn in Group B and will compete against Nigeria in their primary fixture on June 22, before taking on Madagascar and Guinea on June 27 and June 30, respectively.
Here, TheCable looks ahead to how the Swallows may fare in Egypt.
Burundi’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages of this summer’s tournament will have been raised slightly when the groups were drawn, having been put up against Nigeria, Madagascar, and Guinea in Group B.
Nigeria will be the favourites to top the group, but behind them, it is likely to be an intriguing battle among Burundi, Madagascar, and Guinea.
Burundi’s toughest game on paper will come first, and if they can get their tournament off to a positive start then it would set them up nicely for their final two group games.
How they qualified
Burundi picked up 10 points from six games, with Fiston Abdul Razaq netting six goals for them.
Burundi have won once in their last five games.
In their last friendly, they drew 1-1 with Algeria and will take on Tunisia on Monday (today).
Goalkeepers: Jonathan Nahimana, Justin Ndikumana, Arthyr Mac Arakaza
Defenders: Frederic Nsabiyumva, Moussa Omar, David Nshimirimana, Ngando Omar, Christophe Nduwarugira, Karim Nizigiyimana
Midfielders: Pierrot Kwizera, Gael Bigirimana, Gael Duhayindavyi, Moustapha Francis, Enock Nsabumukama, Shassir Nahimana
Strikers: Fiston Abdoul-Razak, Saido Berahino, Mohamed Amissi, Cedric Amisi, Shabani Hussein, Elvis Kamsoba, Laudit Mavugo, Selemani Ndikumana
STAR PLAYER – SAIDO BERAHINO
No other side in the tournament, not even Egypt with Mohamed Salah and Ivory Coast with Winifred Zaha, will be more reliant on one player than Burundi.
Now 25, Berahino fled the country aged 10 along with his mother after his father was killed in a civil strife.
He was given refugee status in United Kingdom, where he began his career at West Bromwich Albion, played for England at U-16, U-17 and U-21 levels and was even called up to the senior squad.
His early promise was, however, blighted by disciplinary problems.
Last year, Fifa approved a request to change his international allegiance to the country of his birth and Berahino has been a regular in the 2019 Nations Cup qualifying campaign since scoring on debut against Gabon away in September 2018.
“It’s a non-starter. I want to play at the best level with the best players at the best tournaments. Burundi is motherland to me,” Berahino said about his allegiance to Burundi in 2013.
“I will always be a Burundian regardless of what happens, even if I become a successful Premier League player. I will still have the Burundi culture in me. Playing for England is totally different.
“They have given me a second chance in life, provided my family with a different type of lifestyle. I feel very, very grateful to what England have done for me and my family.
“So, when I play for England, I play with passion and excitement, joy and desire to win.”
His addition to a team without much experience was a boost as was the decision to expand the size of the Afcon to 24 teams, allowing two from each four-team qualifying group to progress to the finals.
MANAGER – OLIVIER NIYUNGEKO
The Swallows’ first ever Afcon finals match is against three-time champions, the Super Eagles on Saturday, June 22.
At the dugout will be coach Oliver Niyungeko, who himself is a former player of the team.
He led them to qualification for the Egypt.
Afcon record: None
Burundi’s chances rely so heavily on the form of Berahino.
The Swallows are expected to struggle in the group.
Verdict: First round exit.
Question: Will the experience of Saido Berahino and Gaël Bigirimana, British-raised players, be enough for will Burundi to swallow the Super Eagles of Nigeria on Saturday at the Alexandria stadium, Egypt?