Saido Berahino’s decision to play for the country his family fled when he was 10 paid off at the weekend as the Stoke forward helped Burundi qualify for their first-ever African Nations Cup finals.
A 1-1 draw at home to Gabon in Bujumbura on Saturday ensured qualification for Burundi, sparking wild celebrations in the east African country.
“It’s amazing, I cannot find the words. I need to take myself away for a moment to try and properly realise what has happened because I have not really been able to do that yet,” Berahino told Radio France International.
“It was crazy from start to finish, from the moment we went to the stadium until when we left. It’s been totally unimaginable.
“I can only thank God for the fact that I have always wanted to represent a team at a big tournament, and I can do with my homeland. It’s perfect. It’s a dream come true.”
Berahino fled the country along with his mother after his father was killed in civil unrest.
He was given refugee status in United Kingdom, where he began his career at West Bromwich Albion, played for the England under-21s and was called up to the senior squad.
Last year, FIFA approved a request to change Berahino’s international allegiance to the country of his birth, and he has been a regular in the 2019 Nations Cup qualifying campaign since scoring on debut at Gabon in September.
The 25-year-old’s addition to a team without much experience provided a boost as did the decision to expand the size of the Nations Cup field to 24 teams, allowing two from each four-team qualifying group to progress.
“That decision made us more motivated and it gave us more of the determination we needed to get our name on this Africa Cup of Nations,” Berahino said.
“It wasn’t a simple task, but we are a very united squad. We were successful thanks to our unity. Being the first generation from Burundi to qualify for the Cup of Nations is something we will always have.”