FIFA U-17 WC: Do not take us easy, warns Niger's coach

Niger coach Soumaila talks about his side’s prospects at the upcoming U-17 World Cup in an interview with Sportstar.

Niger begins its U-17 World Cup campaign against North Korea in Kochi.   -  Stan Rayan

The little-known footballing nation of Niger will quietly take its first steps on the world stage as it debuts in the upcoming U-17 World Cup alongside New Caledonia and host India. The “ambitious” team will look to give the teams a run for their money, as it did during the qualification phase of the 2017 African Cup, defeating U-17 World Cup defending champion and neighbour Nigeria.

The memorable 3-1 victory led to it securing a ticket to India.

Coach Soumaila, nicknamed ‘The Emperor’ for his defensive skills, talks about his side's prospects at the upcoming World Cup in an interview with Sportstar.

Excerpts

Q: This is the first time your team is appearing in the U-17 World Cup. How important is this for you?

Needless to say, it is a pleasure to take part in such an important competition. It is our very first World Cup in any category. It is a great honour for our football and sport in general.

Q: You have been drafted in the same group as heavyweights Brazil and Spain. Does that add any pressure on you?

We are ambitious. Whoever our opponents are, we keep the same line of conduct with the same objectives.

We will benefit from our first ever World Cup and pursue our dream – which is to win the title. Don’t forget, we eliminated Nigeria, the reigning world champion!

Q: What is your coaching philosophy and what kind of football is your team going to play?

We have built a squad where all the players are equal and to me, the best player is the team. Proof of this is how we had played practically all our players at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. We have a unique style of play that is suitable to Niger alone.

Q: Given that many African players have made it big and are playing in top leagues across the world today, how big a platform do you think this is for your players to get noticed on a global scale?

It is true that we have fewer players out there, but our football is still expanding. Niger's football is currently experiencing the most glorious period in its history.

We participated twice in the African Cup of Nations in 2012 and 2013 at the senior level and twice at the African Nations Championships in 2011 and recently, in 2016 at Rwanda.

The youngsters played beautifully in the African U-17 Championships in 2015. And now we are here, getting ready for our very first World Cup in India in October.

Our youngsters are motivated by the idea of becoming professional footballers one day.

Q: From being a former player to becoming the coach today, what do you want to achieve with this side?

I have dedicated my entire life to football. I am a former player, former head coach, the national selection head and the national technical director of football.

I want to win the World Cup. I am a winner.

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