Football: Burkina Faso - African pride and passion on display in Ouagadougou

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Burkina Faso

Tunisia, who face England at the World Cup finals this summer, and Morocco, who will meet Scotland, have important business to attend to before they can turn their attentions to France.

Both are among the 16 countries competing at the 21st African Nations' Cup tournament, which begins today. Two years ago the reborn South Africa won the event on home soil, amid much triumphalism led by President Nelson Mandela wearing a team shirt. This year the venue is far removed from the bright lights of Johannesburg and Durban.

The host nation is one of the poorest in Africa: . The matches are being staged in two stadiums in the capital, Ouagadougou, and a new stadium in the provincial town of Bobo Dioulasso.

It was very much a political decision by the Confederation of African Football to take its flagship tournament to , one of the continent's least developed nations. CAF has stated that it wants to take the biennial event to all corners of Africa in order to help upgrade facilities everywhere.

took on the challenge and, although hotels and communications may not always be of the standard visitors are accustomed to, it is something of a triumph for them to be staging the tournament. Zambia, the scheduled hosts in 1988, pulled out at a very late stage, pleading poverty. So too did Kenya in 1996, due to internal political conflicts as well as cash shortages.

have diligently dealt with every difficulty they have faced so far, however, and today the action starts on the pitch when the host nation take on Cameroon in the 4 August stadium in Ouagadougou - which is also the venue of the final on 28 February.

The hosts are in a tough group along with Algeria and Guinea as well as Cameroon. They have, however, hired a top coach to try and maximise the potential of their team. Philippe Troussier, an itinerant Frenchman who has had spells in charge of Ivory Coast and Nigeria and will be off after the African finals to take charge of South Africa at the World Cup.

Although his team are unlikely to win the tournament, they have realistic hopes of progressing from the group stage.

South Africa were fined and had the size of their squad cut from 22 to 20 by the organisers on Thursday for sending in the list of names late. They have been beset by problems since qualifying for the World Cup.

The experienced coach Clive Barker, who led them to France, resigned after a series of poor results in friendlies. Their woes have continued and last month they suffered a humiliating defeat by Namibia, who are also at the Nations' Cup, in a Castle Cup tie.

South Africa's caretaker coach, Jomo Sono, is in ebullient mood, though. "There are still enough quality players in key positions that are better than the best the other countries have to offer," he said. "None of the other teams has a player of the defensive stature of Lucas Radebe. No other team has a winger that takes on defences like Helman Mkhalele and there are no other strikers like Phil Masinga. On the African stage, I believe we are still ahead of the field and that we will win again."

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