India is all set to hold its first ever FIFA tournament as six venues across the country get ready to welcome 24 teams from around the world for the men’s Under-17 World Cup.
With the kick-off to the prestigious event which has thrown up many great talents of the future throughout its history now just under a month away, Goal continues to bring you a brief guide to every participating nation.
In this segment, we take a glance at West African nation Niger’s history in the competition, its road to qualification and much more ahead of their arrival in India.
Nicknamed the Menas, the landlocked-nation in West Africa has not been one of the stronger sides on the continent traditionally. The men’s national team have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup, constant financial troubles having caused them to withdraw from major tournaments on more than one occasion.
The northern neighbours of Nigeria only achieved their first qualification to the African Cup of Nations in 2012 before repeating that feat once again the following year. They have since then gone through another unsuccessful period having failed to qualify in the subsequent editions.
Confederation : Confederation of African Football (CAF)
Nicknames : Menas
Coach : Teimogo Soumaila
PAST RECORDS AND LAURELS
This is the first time in their history that the former French colony has qualified to the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. The landlocked-country have only started fielding their youth teams in the qualifying rounds of the global showcase in 2011, having chosen not to play in the previous editions.
Their qualification history in the Under-17 African Cup of Nations is not pretty extensive either with the Junior Menas having played their first ever qualifiers as late as 2013. They did not manage to book their tickets to the continental showdown in Morocco but have since managed to qualify for the following two editions in 2015 in 2017.
Nonetheless Niger’s results of late in the youth division have shown enough signs that their maiden participation to the World Cup will not be their last.
ROAD TO UNDER-17 WORLD CUP
Niger, like all other members of the CAF, had to go through the 2017 Under-17 African Cup of Nations roué to vie for the four spots on offer to the continent.
In only their second tryst with Africa’s premier tournament, Niger showed remarkable fortitude to go all the way to the last-four in Gabon earlier this May.
The Junior Menas had earlier sensationally beaten the defending Under-17 World champions and five-time winners Nigeria in the second round of the qualifiers for the main showdown in Gabon.
Their run in the main event started with a hard fought 2-2 draw against Angola before a 1-2 loss to eventual champions Mali in their second group-match left their aspirations for a semi-final berth hanging by a thread.
Niger held their nerve in the final group encounter as a plucky 1-0 win over Tanzania was enough to send them through to the last-four.
Their luck ran out it in the semi-finals as they went down 5-6 to Ghana in a penalty shootout after the two teams had been locked goalless in regulation time.
TEAM COACH AND IDEOLOGY
Niger are managed by Teimogo Somaila, a footballing hero in the country, having captained and then subsequently coached the men’s national squad. Fondly referred to as the ‘Emperor’ by the nation’s football fans for being a solid defender with an impressive aerial prowess, the 54-year old is a physical education and sports teacher.
To further his coaching educations, Somaila has done his coaching badges in Europe and Brazil. He has also enjoyed a stint as the Director of Football in the national setup before being giving the reins of the Under-17 squad.
With Niger preparing to host the 2019 Under-20 African Cup of Nations, Somaila hopes that the current squad at his disposal could form the spine of the one they put out in two years time.
PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR
With two goals each in the their run to the fourth spot in the African Cup of Nations, Ibrahim Marou and Abdoul Karim Sanda will be Niger’s biggest threats in the global finale in India.
Sanda scored both the side’s goals in the 2-2 draw with Angola while Marou’s strike secured their maiden semi-final appearance in the tournament.