By Asuzu Emmanuel, Stanley David and Okeah Kenneth
Burundi’s Football National Team, nicknamed, the Swallows, will start their 2019 AFCON campaign against Nigeria on Saturday, with the captain, Sadio Berahino upbeat on their chances of getting a result.
Berahino who played for England at youth level before switching allegiance to the country of his birth told the media on Friday that it may just be a good thing that his country has been tagged the underdogs of the AFCON.
“We’ve been called underdogs from the qualification stages and for us, we just take the games as they come.
“Most of the players are motivated by this because we can play freely and most nations won’t expect a lot from us. They do not know us and probably don’t watch our games so that releases a lot of pressure on us and that’s how we went through the qualification stage unbeaten,” Berahino said.
Sadio Berahino left Burundi as a refugee when he was a child and received asylum in Birmingham where he started his football.
He played for England at all youth levels from U16 to U21 before pledging his international future to Burundi.
Berahino says he is honoured to captain his country at a major tournament like the AFCON.
“Like I always said Burundi is my homeland and I have always wanted to play for Burundi and being able to captain Burundi for the first time in such a tournament is a massive honour for me.
“As a young child I had a dream of playing in Europe and when God gave me that opportunity it changed my life. I played for England from U16 to U21, but Burundi has always been my homeland and to captain Burundi to this major tournament is a dream come through for me.
“With my experience, I’ve gained playing in Europe, I am sure I can pass down the experience to my teammates,” The former West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City player said.
At Stoke City, his contract was recently terminated but Berahino says he still has time to overcome his travails and return to reckoning.
“I have to prove to myself that I can still play at a high level. People learn from their mistakes and move on. This cannot define my career not at all since I am only 25.
He is adamant that his side is well prepared for their maiden AFCON game against three-time champions Nigeria and are rearing to go.
“We’ve prepared for a big game by playing two good games against Tunisia and Algeria and we will go in very confident because we know they (Nigeria) are expected to win because they are a big nation with history but in football anything is possible and we will stand tall as we did in the qualifiers and friendlies.”
The game between Nigeria and Burundi kicks off at 6 pm Nigerian time.