Thursday 02 June 2016, 09:48

Abdul Razak, Burundi’s favourite son

At the tender age of 24, Burundi striker Fiston Abdul Razak carries the hopes of a nation that has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ or the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. A firm favourite with the Swallows’ fans, he has scored in six of his country’s last seven games, and currently tops the scoring charts in the qualifiers for the 2017 continental finals, his haul of five goals leaving the likes of Islam Slimani, Youssef El Arabi and Stephane Sessegnon trailing in his wake.

“I am proud of that but it’s something that pushes me on, that makes me want to do even better,” the man himself told on the eve of his side’s crucial AFCON qualifier against Senegal. Burundi lie second in Group K behind the* *Lions of Teranga, with Niger and Namibia completing the section. “I just want to get as far as I can,” he added. “Making progress is what matters to me and I want my country to do the same.”

Born in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura, Abdul Razak has been making progress ever since he was a young boy, with his career having taken him to the South African league, where he has been plying his trade since 2015. “I’ve been gradually working my way up: I started in the street with my friends, then I played school football and club football, at a higher and higher level every time,” he explained. “I took a big step forward in 2009, in signing for LLB Academic. I then took my first steps in the Burundian elite and with the national team.”

A move to Kenyan club Sofapaka followed in 2014, and his fine performances there earned him a deal with African giants Mamelodi Sundowns, who have just claimed the South African championship. The frontman, who measures 5’9, has yet to establish himself at the Sundowns, though coach Pitso Mosimane sees a bright future for him.

“It’s perhaps hard to believe that he’s scoring so much for his country, against teams like Congo DR no less, and yet he’s still fighting to nail down a starting place for his club,” said Mosimane recently. “Fiston will make it in the end, though.” Making it count Abdul Razak has shown plenty of character in getting to where he is now, having fought hard to fulfil his dream to make it as a footballer: “The main obstacles to my professional career were my parents,” joked the player, the fifth of nine children. “They thought there was no way I could ever make a living from football. They insisted that I completed my studies, and I convinced them I could do both. Today they are happy for their son, and I’ve shown my gratitude by helping them as much as I can.”

The pride of his family, the prodigious frontman is also the pride of the nation. His three goals against Seychelles in the first round of the African qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, in November 2015, gave the Swallows their first world finals qualification win since 2008. He was also on target three times in two meetings with Namibia in March this year, helping to keep alive his country’s hopes of making their debut Africa Cup of Nations appearance.

“Every goal counts,” said the in-form forward of his recent purple patch. “Against Namibia, I scored twice in the return match. They were important goals and helped us get the win. I also think that the goal I got in the home match against them three days earlier was important too, even though we lost 3-1. It restored our pride and gave us hope. It was also the best goal I’ve ever scored.”

Blessed with talent to burn, Abdul Razak signed off by saying: “I’m obsessed with scoring goals. That’s all I think about when I get out on the pitch. And if I don’t score, then it hurts.”