Afcon: Burundi ready for maiden challenge, says coach Oliver Niyungeko

Alongside Madagascar, Les Hirondelles are making their debut at the Afcon finals, with players like Berahino and Bigirimana championing their cause

Coach Oliver Niyungeko believes Burundi have has much of a chance of success as every other team at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

Niyungeko's side will make their debut at the Afcon finals in Egypt after they finished second from Group C of the qualifiers, ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Gabon.

They have been drawn into Group B with seasoned campaigners Nigeria, Guinea and fellow debutants Madagascar.

On June 22, they start their campaign with a clash against the Super Eagles in Ismailia and the gaffer is buoyant about his side's prospects at the competition.

“As much as we can celebrate, we can’t do it forever. The qualification is now behind our backs and the work has officially begun for us. We have to work hard to prepare and work hard to do well in the tournament,” Niyungeko told the Caf website.

“My target is to ensure we do our best. We are not here to show weakness or participate. We are here to compete and show that our qualification was no fluke. There are 24 teams and each has an equal chance and we are also part of that with an equal chance.

“It is possible to reach any target we set and I believe in my players and that we can work hard and do well in this tournament,

“It is a very tough group because apart from Madagascar; Nigeria and Guinea are teams who have experience playing in this competition. We will do our best, take a match at a time and represent Burundi in the best way we can."

Despite scoring only a goal each during the qualification phase, Saido Berahino and Gael Bigirmana earned high praises from Niyungeko.

Stoke City forward Berahino switched allegiance from England to represent his country of birth, while Bigirmana - after run-ins with Rwanda and England U20 - switched to Burundi in 2015.

“We have many players turning out in other African countries and in Asia but the two had a very big influence in the team. When they came in, they gave a lot of motivation to the other players showing them that anything is possible and football can indeed change someone’s life," Niyungeko continued.

 “They influenced the players in a positive way and it made my work easier as a coach. They want their teammates to follow in their paths and told them that qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations would put their careers in a good place.

“It was such joy for me and my players and the entire country to earn this qualification and be in Egypt for the first time.

"We worked so hard for it and after getting a positive result in the first match, we knew that it was a possibility for us to qualify."