With the kick-off to the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in India just under a month away, preparations are on in full swing for the biggest football event to be ever held in the country.
24 of the best teams from around the globe will arrive in India to battle it out for the coveted trophy at six venues across India with the final being held in Kolkata.
As the youth football extravaganza draws near with each passing day, Goal continues to profile the various squads set to descend in the country. We take a look at the African nation Mali and their journey to qualification.
Though Mali have a strong pedigree in the youth tournaments, they have found the going tough at the senior level having never qualified for a World Cup.
The most famous name to come out of the African Nation is Seydou Keita who went to become the most capped player for Mali with a record 102 appearances.
The midfielder went on to have a fabulous professional career in Europe where he sent four successful seasons at Spanish giants Barcelona winning 14 major trophies.
Currently though, Mali are experiencing one of their most successful periods in youth football with their talented squads shining on both the global and African stage.
Confederation : Confederation of African Football (CAF)
Nicknames : Les Aigles (The Eagles)
Coach : Jonas Komla
PAST RECORDS AND LAURELS
Runners-up in the last edition held in Chile, Mali have had a mixed-bag in the FIFA U-17 World Cup so fair throughout its history.
They came agonizingly close to making the last four in 1997 but bowed out to Germany in a penalty-shootout in the quarter-finals. Their most famous export, Seydou Keita, was a part of this squad and it was his decisive penalty-miss that sealed the fates of The Eagles in the last-eight.
The African powerhouses qualified for three straight editions between 1997 and 2001 where they advanced to the quarter-finals twice.
Mali’s next participation in the global showcase would not come until the last edition in 2015 where they broke their quarter-final hoodoo to make it to the summit clash before suffering defeat at the hands of African rivals Nigeria.
The former French colony have been dominating the U-17 African Cup of Nations of late winning the last two editions held in 2015 and 2017.
ROAD TO UNDER-17 WORLD CUP
Mali took part in the 2017 U-17 African Cup of Nations held in Gabon earlier this May which served as the qualifiers for the World Cup. The top four nations in the tournament were assured of a spot in the global showcase in India.
Mali booked their passage after defending their crown as the 2015 winners overcame Ghana by a solitary goal in the final at Libreville.
The Eagles were in fine form throughout their run to the title as they went undefeated in their five matches and in the process became the first nation to win back-to-back U-17 African Cup of Nations.
Striker Hadji Drame was the top-scorer for the champions with three vital goals including an important penalty against Guinea in the last-four.
TEAM COACH AND IDEOLOGY
The team is led by Togolese coach Jonas Komla who had taken over the reins from Baye Bah after the latter had guided the African Nation to their first-ever U-17 African Cup of Nations title in 2015.
If there were any doubts about Komla’s appetite for the role, they were removed when he emulated Bah by leading Mali to their second consecutive continental triumph earlier this year as Mali created history by defending their crown.
The head coach has had extensive experience in his career so far which has seen him manage Djobila, one of the leading clubs in Mali. He has had stints outside the continent too including one with UAE club Bani Yas.
The bulk of Mali’s Under-17 squad have played together since the Under-13 days and this has reflected in their continued success in the last two years.
"Compared to other African countries, Mali are a step ahead when it comes to mental preparation. We've been working with these players since they started at U-13 level, and we've put a lot of emphasis on the mental aspect. You mustn't forget that they come from very poor families and that football is a way out for them. We teach them to play every game with the same rigour and focus," Komla had said to FIFA.com
PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Youssof Koita: The Mali custodian will be a tough wall to breach for any opposition in the upcoming World Cup. The teenager was in impressive form in the side’s continental triumph in May where he kept a clean-sheet in all the five matches. He was also the hero of the semi-final penalty-shootout against Guinea as he saved all the four spot-kicks fired at him to hand Mali a 2-0 victory.
Hajdi Drame: The striker was Mali’s top-scorer in the same tournament with his three goals. He was particularly impressive in his side’s 6-1 thrashing of Angola where he scored a brace. He also had a vital role to play in their semi-final victory making no mistake with his spot-kick.
GOALKEEPERS: Alkalifa Coulibaly, Youssof Koita, Massire Gassama;
DEFENDERS: Boubacar Haidara, Fode Konate, Mamadi Fofana, Soumaila Doumbia, Abdoulaye Diaby, Ibrahiim Kane;
MIDFIELDERS: Djemoussa Traore, Mohamed Camara, Abdoulaye Dabo, Salam Giddou, Siaka Sidibe, Mamadou Samake, Cheick Oumar Doucoure;
FORWARDS: Hadji Drame, Seme Camara, Mamadou Traore, Mahamane Toure, Lassana Ndiaye.