Wednesday 25 October 2017, 01:17

Spain, Mali hoping for a different ending

  • Spain and Mali meet in Navi Mumbai on Wednesday   

  • Both teams have come close to winning a U-17 World Cup

  • We hear from Mali's Mamadou Samake and Spain's Mateu Morey

Spain and Mali are two nations who have something in common when it comes to the FIFA U-17 World Cup: both have come close to winning the competition, without taking that final step.

While La Roja have finished runners-up on three occasions, the last of them in 2007, the Eaglets were the losing finalists at Chile 2015.

The two sides meet in the India 2017 semi-finals on Wednesday, with another opportunity to lift the trophy at stake. The question is, will those past failures be on the minds of the players when they stride out in Navi Mumbai?

“This isn’t the team that lost the final two years ago,” said Mali’s Mamadou Samake in reply to “That was a sad defeat for us and it motivates us to some extent, but this is a new Mali team and we want to go one step further than they did.”

Spain’s Mateu Morey offered a similar response to the same question: “It’s not on our minds at all, though there’s no denying the fact that we really want to be the first players to win an U-17 World Cup for the country.”

  • The Samake and Morey fact file

Born: 15 May 2000/2 March 2000           Clubs: Yeleni Olimpic (MLI)/FC Barcelona (ESP)           Positions: midfielder/right-back           Matches played at India 2017: 5/5

Both believe it is the present that matters when it comes to judging if their nations are powerhouses in the age group. “Obviously, that’s what we are today,” said the Mali midfielder. “We have our own style, we’ve beaten big South American and European teams, and we’re in the semis.”

“Spain have had some great generations, and this is one of them,” said the Spaniard. “We’ve proved that we’re a great side and we want to keep on doing that. The best way we can do that is to win the title.”

Samake and Morey share something more than the fact they are semi-final opponents, having both scored in the finals that saw their sides crowned continental champions. Will that help them at the business end of a World Cup competition?

“There’s a big difference between the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup,” explained Samake. “This is more interesting, and it’s tougher too. Everyone respects us a lot in Africa, and we want the rest to respect us here.”

“In terms of confidence, it obviously does help,” said Morey, giving his reply, before recalling this year’s European final, when Spain scored a stoppage-time equaliser against England and went on to win on penalties. “Having won that title, it would feel strange to fall just short now. We want to experience that feeling again here.”

Three questions

  • Why football?

Samake:* *“When I was a boy, I’d watch the great players on TV and ask myself, ‘When will it be my turn?’ I want to sign a professional contract.”

Morey: “I started playing when I was three with my father in my hometown. As time’s gone by, I’ve enjoyed it more and more and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

  • Which match will you always remember?​

Samake:* “Every Real Madrid game. I’ve been watching them on TV since I was a boy.”

*Morey: “One I played for Manacor when I was 11 or 12. It was a bit like the final of this year’s European U-17 Championships. We were losing, but we equalised right at the end to clinch the Balearic title for the first time in my town’s history.”

  • Who gave you your first jersey?

Samake: “Amara Niane, who plays for Troyes in France now. I’ve got it with me and I always look at it when I’m at home.”*

Morey: “My uncle. It was a Barça* jersey and it had my name on it. I’ve kept it as a souvenir.”