Burkina Faso: Dark Stallions
Paul Put has been Burkina Faso manager since early 2012 and knows his players and their capabilities inside out.
The exact approach he employs in Equatorial Guinea, however, probably depends on the fitness of Alain Traore. While Jonathan Pitroipa often steals the headlines for the Stallions, one could argue that Traore—when fit—is capable of taking the side to the next level.
He almost single-handedly secured the West Africans’ spot at the 2013 showpiece, only to miss the latter stages of the tournament after picking up an injury against Zambia. Three goals in the first two matches, however, demonstrate exactly what he brings to the side.
If he is fit, I suspect Put will opt for a 4-3-3-cum-4-2-3-1 formation with the Lorient man at the pinnacle of the midfield or in the hole.
Regardless, the defensive unit is a fairly stable unit.
French-based Germain Sanou will play between the sticks, with Abdoulaye Soulama in reserve.
Of the defence who reached the final at the last Cup of Nations, two should return to the starting XI this time around.
Mohamed Koffi will feature at right-back, with Olympique Lyonnais man Bakary Kone alongside him in defence.
They will be joined by talented Ligue 1 man Steeve Yago and Cluj left-back Narcisse Bambara.
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The celebrated Paul Keba Koulibaly returned to the backline for the final qualifier against Angola, and will likely be a handy squad option. Similarly, Florent Rouamba, who typically operates in defensive midfield, but who can also drop into the defence.
Issa Gouo represented the Stallions at the Championship of African Nations and will be primed to step in at left-back should circumstances require.
Charles Kabore will likely be the fulcrum of the side and the lynchpin of the midfield. The ex-Marseille man can tackle, can cover ground and, as many are finally waking up to, can pass as well. While Pitroipa and Traore often steal the show, Kabore is the “goods in the back” as Peter Taylor once memorably described himself.
He will be joined by Djakaridja Kone, of Evian, another physical presence, a versatile operator and a veteran of the last two Afcon tournaments.
If Traore is fit, Kabore and Kone will support him in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation. If he’s unavailable, then the pair will command the centre of the park in a 4-4-2, with the former seeking to spread the ball out to the flanks.
On the right-hand side, Jonathan Zongo, of Almeria, will feature. The six-footer was a relatively late arrival on the international scene, but has impressed in his 10 starts to date. The Ouagadougou-born wideman can switch over to the left should Bertrand Traore start.
The precocious teenager is a versatile attacking presence—he can play up top or in the hole—but he hasn’t always stamped his creative authority on contests.
Should Alain Traore be absent, one of Betrand or Pitroipa will move to the left, with the other one staying central to support a target man.
The key option is Aristide Bance.
A maverick, certainly, a talking-point, definitely, and a hipster’s favourite, without doubt, but the Bance charabanc isn’t always accompanied by end product. One goal in five qualifying appearances isn’t enough for Burkina Faso’s ‘Old Chip Head’.
If Put loses faith in Bance, as he has done in the past, then he might turn to Austria-based Issiaka Ouedraogo who can, on his day, produce a moment of genuine class.
It’s hard to see Prejuce Nakoulma move ahead of these two for a central role, although the wayward attacker might feature in a wide berth. He was given a lot of gave time by Put during 2013 although his finishing is rarely consistent and he’s scored only two goals in ten appearances since the last Afcon.
If Traore is absent, Put does have other creative options in a central role, although both Moussa Yerdan and Abdou Razack Traore were discarded after indifferent performances in qualifying.