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Africa Cup of Nations

Bertrand Traore’s Burkina Faso: Walking in the shadows of Afcon legends

04:15 GMT 05/02/2022
Bertrand Traore of Burkina Faso celebrates goal during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
The ex-Chelsea man was only 15 when he made his international debut, and is now carrying on the legacy of his ‘big brothers’

Bertrand Traore is one of the last remaining threads to the memorable Burkina Faso nation that took the country to new heights in African football.

As the Aston Villa man prepares for the Stallions’ Third-Placed Playoff at the current Africa Cup of Nations, the legacy of those ‘big brothers’ who helped paint a new chapter in the national side’s history—and facilitate his transition to the international arena—continues to fuel the West Africans’ footballing future.

Traore, a one-time wonderkid at Chelsea, made his international debut way back in 2011—at the tender age of 15—and while he hasn’t quite reached the heights once expected of him, he’s been the Stallions’ talisman at the Nations Cup and continues to be their most prominent player.

Despite a tricky tournament that began with ‘scandal’ according to Traore, as he complained about the team’s coronavirus tests ahead of their opener against hosts Cameroon, and came to a halt with a semi-final defeat by Senegal, the wideman has impressed intermittently.

There was the assist against the Indomitable Lions, their opponents on Saturday, to open the scoring in the tournament—a fine cross for Gustavo Sangare that evaded Andre Onana—and the opening goal against Gabon as the Stallions ousted the Panthers in the Round of 16.

Their aim during the tournament was to surpass the country’s finest side—the unlikely defeated finalists at the 2013 edition—and win the nation’s maiden Nations Cup crown.

While this Burkina Faso team didn’t have legends of the ilk of Aristide Bance, Jonathan Pitroipa, Alain Traore or Charles Kabore, they have youth on their side, and deserve immense credit for battling through to the final amidst the ongoing Coup d’Etat and political situation back in their homeland.

President Roch Kabore was overthrown on January 23—only hours ahead of Burkina Faso’s Last 16 game against Gabon—and while they’ve missed out on the final, they have performed admirably in difficult circumstances…notably eliminating Tunisia at the quarter-final stage.

Ultimately, they’ve fallen just short, but as Traore looks ahead to the country’s sporting future, and assesses how they’ve performed on the fields of Cameroon, he couldn’t help but pay tribute to those stars who paved his way to the national side.

“It was an honour for me to begin with national team so young,” he told GOAL, “and to play with all the legends of our football.

“I learned a lot next to them, and that’s what I’m trying to bring into the team, to the young generation

“Above all else, it’s the humility these great players had—right from the first day, they welcomed me so well, and from the younger players to the older ones, they chatted with me like I’d been there for ten years.”

There’s inevitably a certain humility about Burkina Faso, whose unlikely run to the showpiece in 2013 came between a semi-final showing on home soil in 1998 and another final-four elimination in 2017.

Beyond that, their Nations Cup fortunes have been unspectacular—they have been eliminated in the group stage without winning a single match in their other eight Afcon appearances—while they’ve never reached the World Cup, nor produced a player to make the podium in the African Footballer of the Year awards.

Yet the unlikely darlings of 2013 have earned cult-hero status both for their unity and fearlessness on the pitch, as well as their characters and nomadic careers off it.

They may be unfashionable, but Traore believes that a lack of ego—passed down through the generations—can represent the nation’s great strength as they look to end the campaign on a high note.

“That’s the strength of our team,” he continued. “We don’t over-think things, there’s no big star, and we’re all on the same level.

“We talk together, walk together, and these are the lessons that the big brothers have left us.

“We’re trying to make it work.”

Of course, neither Burkina Faso and Cameroon will be content to be contesting the third-placed match rather than the final this weekend, but with both teams having one eye on the future—and the Lions on the World Cup playoff against Algeria—they’ll recognise the value of ending the tournament on a high.

For Burkina Faso, there’s an eye on the past too, as a young team who have done their nation proud this competition, continue to work in the footsteps of the great names gone by.