The first two times Paulo Duarte was in charge of Burkina Faso at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations was in 2010 and 2012 and his record read: Played five, drawn one, lost four. After losing all three groups games in 2012, he was sacked.
Fast forward five years and two teams later, the Portuguese coach is back at the helm and again in charge of Les Etalons at the Africa Cup of Nations. But this time around, things are looking very different for the former defender, who played close to 250 league games in the Portuguese top flight. On Saturday, Burkina Faso became the first team to qualify for the semi-finals of the competition after beating Tunisia 2-0 in Libreville.
“When I came back, it was a very different story, although there were some problems. I tried to fix them, but I had to go slowly,” he recalls, adding that many of the players who lacked the experience in his first stint in charge, were now leading the team. “Today, I have more talent. Leading players are in their late 20s. They are between 27 and 29 years, in their best age. As a result we play better and it makes it easier to integrate new, younger players."
Like no other coach at these finals, Duarte has managed to blend together a strong team, using experienced players - some of which he first brought to the team in 2010 - and talented youngsters.
Taking to the competition
Nearly half of the squad in Gabon are playing their first Africa Cup of Nations finals, with many of them in their early 20s. Led on the field by experienced players, the youngsters went into the competition with their feet running.
Drawn into a tough group that included hosts Gabon and four-time winners Cameroon, Les Etalons held both teams to a 1-1 draw, setting up a final group game they needed to win to make sure of advancing. A goal either side of the break against Guinea Bissau saw the west Africans advance to a quarter-final clash against Tunisia.
Against the North Africans two of the veterans in the side - Prejuce Nakoulma and Aristide Bance scored late for Burkina Faso, who will now meet Egypt after they beat Morocco 1-0 in their quarter-final.
Yacouba Coulibaly is one of the youngsters thrown in the deep end by Duarte and the defender, who plays his club football in the local league for RC Bobo Dioulasso, said he was grateful for the advice the older players in the team give him.
"I feel better and better, thanks to my 'older brothers', who encouraged me in my first games," said the 22-year-old Coulibaly. "I am also happy to see that at the end of each match, they come to me and tell me that I have been able to contribute on the field. It is already good. Everyone counts a lot on me. It is a chance for me and it is up to me to take it. But without the experienced players it would not be easy for me."
The Burkina Faso defence has leaked just two goals in their four games and much of the credit must go to goalkeeper Herve Koffi, who at 20 is the youngest goalkeeper at the tournament. He was surprisingly given the starting role ahead of the more experienced Germain Sanou.
“When I arrived in Gabon, I instantly thought that it was not a competition like the others, that it was different. It is watched all over the world. This is a new kind of pressure for me, much more pressure than when you play with your club team. But you have to overcome this pressure and stay focused on the coming games. That's what I did and I think it worked," said Koffi, who plays for ASEC Mimosas in Côte d'Ivoire.
Egyptian-based Patrick Malo believes the team is one under construction. “Many of the players who competed in the finals four years ago have since left the team. If you take the defence, most of the players are young.
“For us, the experience of the older players who are still present is essential, and I would like to thank them because they have opened the doors for me and my younger brothers. They have supervised us and made our integration into group life easier. It is thanks to them that Burkina Faso has been able to reach its current level."
And with a ticket for the FIFA Confederations Cup beckoning for the winner of the competition, just two matches separate Les Etalons from their biggest-ever triumph. Should they achieve that goal, it would be the best example of what a fine blend between young and old - between experience and inexperience - can achieve.