Tuesday 29 August 2017, 06:36

Niger set sights high for historic bow

  • India 2017 will be Niger’s first World Cup appearance in any level

  • Soumaila Tiemogo led the Junior Menas* *to the semi-finals in CAF qualifying

  • Tiemogo says his players can form the backbone of the nation’s senior side

Niger’s past*** *0* - The number of appearances previously made by Niger at a FIFA competition in any age group. The Menas *have never progressed beyond the qualifiers of the FIFA World Cup™, though they did achieve some promising results in the preliminaries for Spain 1982 and USA 1994. As for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, Niger made their debut in the tournament in 2012, when they lost all their group matches. On their final appearance in the continental finals, in 2013, they lost two and drew one.

Niger’s present*** *1* - The number of times Niger have now qualified for a world finals, with the Junior Menas* set to make their debut at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. Coach Soumaila Tiemogo puts that achievement down to the strides made in developing grassroots football and the interest generated by Niger’s appearances at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 and 2013.

“The seniors achieved two good results and our youngsters have followed up by reaching the World Cup,” he told FIFA.com. “Niger is not really a footballing country but the sport’s coming along now, thanks to youth development and the courses the national FA, the CAF and FIFA are laying on for coaches. And we’re making the most of them and giving all we can to young players.”

How Niger made it to India 2017* *“The qualifiers were tough for us,” recalled Tiemogo, whose players claimed the scalp of two-time reigning world champions Nigeria. “That turned a few heads in Africa and earned us some attention. We backed that up at the finals, where we faced Mali, the runners-up at the last world finals, in the group phase. Our young players still managed to qualify and they deserved to do so too. We’ve come a long way.”

  • *Niger claimed their ticket to India by reaching the semi-finals. They lost 6-5 on penalties to Ghana in the last four, having played out a goalless draw in normal time. Guinea then beat them 3-1 in the match for third place.

    Niger’s future Three formidable opponents in the shape of Korea DPR, Brazil and Spain, await Niger in Group D at India 2017. “Unlike senior level, when you know who the star players are, it’s harder to judge in youth football,” said Tiemogo. “If you asked Niger to knock out Ghana or Gabon at senior level, you’d doubt they could do it. But that’s just what we did at junior level. There’s a lot of talent in Niger.”

Asked if their India 2017 group would be too tough for Niger, their coach gave an upbeat response: “I can’t guarantee that we’ll go on and win the competition but I can guarantee that we’ll make people talk about us, just like we did in Africa. Maybe we can’t work miracles, but we can do our best.”

Tiemogo is looking nowhere but ahead: “Niger has a development programme in place. We are going to create a national academy where young players can stay and receive training for two years.” The head of a football academy himself, the coach has high hopes of his current crop: “We’ll be hosting the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations in 2019, and this generation should provide the spine of that team. We hope to see them kick on after 2019 and represent Niger at senior level.”

The lowdown on Soumaila Tiemogo* *- Known as “The Emperor” in his playing days, Tiemogo was a defender who captained his country.* *- Formerly a PE and sports teacher.

  • Previously a director of football and coach with the national team.

  • Has taken part in a number of CAF and FIFA training seminars.

  • Director of the Atcha Football Academy.