Gael Bigirimana aims to showcase Burundi at the Africa Cup of Nations


Gael Bigirimana aims to provide other talented footballers from Burundi with a source of hope and inspiration as he prepares to represent his homeland at this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations.

The recently-departed Hibs midfielder is currently in Qatar with his national team as they gear up for their first-ever major tournament, which kicks-off in Egypt on June 21.

Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been ravaged by civil war, but Bigirimana, whose mother moved her family to England in search of a more fruitful life, is hoping he and his colleagues can help bring some pride to the nation.

“To be able to represent my home country at AFCON is a privilege,” Bigirimana told the Evening News. “There are so many talented players in Burundi that never had the oppprtunity to go abroad at a young age and develop as I did, so my hope is to bring hope and peace in my country and for The Lord to use me to open doors for the future generation of Burundian football players.”

Burundi, ranked 136th in the world, are in a group with Guinea, Madagascar and Nigeria for the finals after qualifying as the second-placed team in a section containing Mali, Gabon and South Sudan. Bigirimana and former Stoke City forward Saido Berahino – he was released last week by The Potters – are the two main men for Burundi, and the ex-Hibs player is confident his team can hold their own in Egypt. “My confidence is that it was God’s will for us to be at this AFCON,” said Bigirimana. “I don’t believe he will lead us there to be put to shame. My hope is that, with our performances, we will send a message of love and unity to our nation.”

Despite making only one substitute appearance for Hibs in the closing four months of the season, Bigirimana insists he is in good shape to represent his nation. “I feel very fit,” he said. “I have a good friend who specialises in training footballers and athletes, and I’ve done a lot of extra work with him. He pushes me to my limits. It was also really important for me to make the most of my time at Hibs by doing that bit extra after training and taking part in reserve matches to make sure I kept match fit for AFCON.

“But for me, most importantly, I am at peace with my God. That’s where my strength and energy comes from, so mentally, physically and spiritually I’m in one of the best conditions I’ve ever been.

“My wife, my daughter and my in-laws will be there to support me and the nation. We’re expecting our second baby so he or she will obviously will be there too! I also have a big family back home that will be watching – it’s going to be crazy.”

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Publish date : 2019-06-04 05:30:10

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