Con­ti­nen­tal bat­tle

Kick Off - - Contents - BY FRANK SI­MON

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

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