Saido Berahino: Stoke striker determined to help Burundi qualify for tournaments

By Stanley KwendaBBC Sport
Saido Berahino
Saido Berahino opted to play for Burundi despite having represented England at youth level.

Stoke City striker, Saido Berahino, says he wants to help Burundi qualify for major tournaments following his recent decision to commit his international football career to the central African country.

Berahino scored on his debut for The Swallows earlier this month in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Gabon.

"It was just a great feeling. It was a big day for me, it couldn't have been any better and I managed to get a goal on my debut," Berahino told BBC Sport.

"I want to qualify. I want to play major tournaments. I want to play in big tournaments. It was an unbelievable feeling playing for my country.

"I was really pleased with my work and also it was a massive point away in Gabon. We were a bit disappointed that we couldn't get the three points but you know - being away from home and managing to get a point at Gabon which wasn't easy - was a great feeling for everyone on the pitch," he added.

Berahino, who played for England in all the youth age groups, said he finally decided to play for Burundi because it offered him a new challenge in his career.

"As everybody knows, I reached a tough patch in my career and I thought that playing for my country will give me a different type of challenge and give me a different type of responsibility.

"I am 25-years-old now and I believe I am ready to take on the challenge - that's why I decided to play for my country.

"Playing for your country is not just about going and playing football, it's more than that, it means a lot to everybody so I had to make sure I was ready and I was mature enough to take that challenge which is why I made the choice now," said Berahino, who endured a tough time at Premier League clubs West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City where he failed to score a goal in two and half years.

He recently broke his goal duck for Stoke and capped it all with that debut goal for Burundi.

Saido Berahino
Berahino (front row, second from left) played 11 times for England under-21s

Berahino arrived in the UK as a 10-year-old with his mother and siblings and the family were granted political asylum.

Last month he was cleared to play for Burundi after amassing 47 England caps while playing from the under 16 to 21 levels.

He is now looking forward to next month's 2019 Nations Cup double-header qualifiers against Mali.

"We have a long way to get there but I believe with this team, what I have seen so far, we have young and hungry players and we managed to show that against Gabon.

"The unity is there. We fought very hard against Gabon who had a tremendous amount of talent on the pitch. They had great players (Pierre-Emerick) Aubameyang, (Mario) Lemina and we managed to compete against them so it was big for us to come away from there with a point to build our confidence.

"Now we have two important games both against Mali, home and away. If we manage to get a point away there or beat them, it will be massive steps for us to qualify," said Berahino.

Burundi are looking to qualify for their maiden Africa Cup of Nations tournament which is scheduled to be held in Cameroon next year.

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