Burkina Faso star Bakary Kone plots Bafana Bafana’s downfall
Nicknamed ‘General Bako’, Bakary Koné is one of Burkina Faso’s most experienced players, having already played at the last four African Nations Cup finals. He is set to appear at a fifth when Burkina Faso go to Gabon in January, but not before they meet Bafana Bafana in Ouagadougou in early October at the start of the group qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup. The 28-yearold sat down with KICK OFF to discuss the game against South Africa, plus his ambitions and that of his Burkinabe teammates. KICK OFF: Bako, you qualified only in the last seconds for the Nations Cup finals. Tell us about that crazy qualifier against Botswana that you won 2-1? BAKARY KONÉ: Well, it had all started well for us, and suddenly the weather switched from 40 degrees to a storm. We were leading, but then the Botswana team started to play better and we conceded a penalty. We then had to give everything to score the goal to win and ensure that we qualified. The pressure was enormous – we had no choice but to win. We have to thank our crowd for pushing us until to the end. We finally qualified … it was a great moment.
Tell us about the hero, Banou, one of your promising players …
The winning goal was scored by substitute Banou Diawara [who plays for Smouha in Egypt], aged 24, who has twice been voted the best player in the country. He was cut from the squad that went to the last Nations Cup finals, but kept on working to be part of the national team.
Next step for Burkina Faso is the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, starting with a game against South Africa. How important is it to you?
For me and all of the key players like Charles Kaboré and Jonathan Pitroipa, to name just a few, a World Cup ticket is something we all dream of. It has never happened for our country before. It would be a dream for most of us to make it to the World Cup in Russia. The fact that we qualified for 2017 Nations Cup will help us, and bring confidence to our camp.
Following your opener against South Africa, it’s then Senegal and the Cape Verde Islands next …
It’s heavy! It’s heavy stuff to have to tussle against such opponents. We all know that Burkina Faso needs to lift its playing level to qualify, and be more focused.
You will be going back to South Africa where you must have wonderful memories of finishing runners-up at the 2013 Nations Cup finals?
Of course, I do! This is one of the best moments I have
experienced with my national team at that tournament. We reached the final, for the first time in Nations Cup history. That was a fantastic tournament, and South Africa had done very well in the organisation with good conditions for our team. We were only pre-occupied with playing, not distracted by anything else. The best memory is the semifinal where we beat Ghana [Koné was later chosen in the tournament’s Best XI by CAF].
Do you fear Bafana Bafana?
I watched them play recently against Mauritania and Cameroon. I also watched the Olympic side against Brazil at the Rio Games. There is a good generation of under-23 players. That I certainly noticed! I expect a mix of experienced players and young talents to play against us. Since South Africa missed out on the next Nations Cup, they will be wanting to give it their all for the World Cup to make up for not going to Gabon. We won’t have the same pressure, but we need to be in our best physical shape.
Burkina Faso scored only six goals during the 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers. Do you have a problem upfront?
It is true that we have a little problem offensively. But I am sure the coach [Paulo Duarte] will find a solution. [Former Chippa United forward] Aristide Bancé has found a new club, he may join us again in Gabon.
South Africa did not win a game at home during the Afcon preliminaries. Is it something that you are looking to exploit?
Well, from our experience, we haven’t enjoyed good results against Bafana on South African soil. We have lost some, and we know it is not that easy to play Bafana Bafana in front of their home crowd! We will need to concentrate a lot to get a positive result. If we want to qualify for Russia 2018 we must be in our best form. And I hope everyone among the Stallions understands this point.
Do you believe Burkina Faso has a chance to qualify for the World Cup?
From the first game, if we are serious and focused, we have the capacity as a team to go through. We need to be conscious about it. We have just had a great moment of happiness with qualification for the Nations Cup, and have brought joy to our people. We can do even more … our fellow citizens deserve it.
You play now in Spain at Malaga since the start of the season after a long spell at Lyon in France. Are you happy with this move to La Liga?
Yes, very much. I needed to move to get more playing time, which is what I have achieved at Malaga. Things are going very well there for me.
(Below) Burkina Faso are in confident mood after their Afcon qualification
(Above) How Burkina Faso are expected to line up against Bafana