FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 Group B: Things you need to know about Team Mali
Just over two months to set the ball rolling on six different venues of the country our daily dose of analysis continues and as of today, we will be exploring through and through another African side who are supposedly one of the serious contenders for the World title. Mali or as people like to call it the lonely planet, a landlocked country in West Africa is blessed with an extraordinary amount of beauty, wonders and talents and trust me this does not get restricted to mere natural beauty only.
Football has finally made its way into this nation and what better time than to showcase it in a larger than life like platform. We here at Lntup.com, as usual, will be venturing through every nook and corner of their exquisite journey so far and also try to figure out their possibilities of lighting up the tournament.
Relevant squad info and much more:
Country Name: Republic of Mali
Nickname: Les Aigles (The Eagles)
Association: Federation Malienne de Football
Confederation: CAF (Africa)
Head Coach: Jonas Komla
First U-17 World Cup: 1997
Best Performance: 2015 (Runners-up)
Best performance in U-17 African Cup of Nations: 2015,2017 (Champions)
FIFA World Cup record so far and their past laurels
Till the World Championship of 2015 Mali was never recognised as a football powerhouse back in the continent and barring two quarter final appearances in the respective years of 1997 (where they lost out to Germany on penalties after Seydou Keita missing the decisive spot kick) and 2001(they got knocked out by Argentina 2-1in extra time) they had nothing to showcase for their efforts.
During this period of 1997-2001 although they did manage to qualify thrice for the World Cup but failed to rise to the occasion crumbling at crucial phases of the tournament.But that was not so much a sorry case as its seems because the World Stage indeed gave birth to icons like Keita, one of the finest the country has ever produced (who later went to feature for Barcelona, Sevilla and Roma on numerous occasions) and the likes of Mahamadou Diarra and Frederic Kanoute as well.
The country needed that culture to flourish but the darker days were yet to come as since 2001 they saw a huge downturn in their fortunes missing out on the tournament for the ten years that followed. But then comes the year 2015 when they were finally able to leave an impression as they finished the competition coming second to Nigeria.
Brief description of their journey to India
As mentioned earlier football in this nation has been on the upsurge following 2015 and since then they have never looked back. 2015 was the brightest year in the country’s history as they grabbed the CAF U-17 African Cup of Nations (hosted in Chile) and retained it in the following edition of 2017 at Gabon defeating Ghana in the final. To their credit, Mali came out on top of everyone earning the prestigious crown twice in succession (first ever African nation to do this).
Having breezed through the qualifying rounds easing past the likes of Chad (9-0) and Angola (6-1) with jaw dropping margins (earlier they drew 0-0 with Tanzania and had beaten Niger 2-1). Thus their chances of boarding the plane to India this October soon turned to be clear as daylight. In the semi-finals, they played out a scoreless stalemate with Guinea before stealing the encounter on penalties. In the final however they did manage to score, Mamadou Samake with a goal to his name made his nation lift the second successive continental title.
Head Coach and his antics, tactics and style of display
Having already managed Djoliba, one of the country’s most renowned clubs and Emirati side Bani Yas the Togolese tactician Jonas Komla finally gave a nod to the Federation Malienne de Football to take charge of the national U-17 side in 2015. To step into the shoes of the previous coach Baye Bah who had already led the Les Aigles to the 2015 World cup in Chile was always an uphill task but Komla has been able to thrive upon this opportunity with flying colours (under him Mali retained the CAF African Cup of Nations crown and booked their berth to India).
He reportedly had a good grounding at Manchester City, Real Madrid and Valencia and he must be imparting some priceless information to these budding youngsters. So to be very specific he has carried on the great legacy formerly built up by Baye Bah and during this two-year tenure, he himself has laid the foundation for the nation’s football to grow in stature.
As quoted saying in an interview, he said:
“We want to respect Mali and all of Africa in the U-17 World Cup but it’s a completely different level. It’s another challenge and we will have to prepare for it in a serious manner”.
Komla, a huge fan of English football himself prefers to go old school with 4-4-2 being his natural choice.
Players likely to shine and steal the show:
The above-mentioned score lines clearly imply that the team has a natural tendency to play free flowing football which is a sheer delight to all the fans watching worldwide. Relentless pressure on the ball is one of the most standout features of this side and that is why we should now bump onto those men who matter the most.
The strongly built forward Mamadou Samake is the most influential among others when it comes to scoring and leading the front line. His bag of trickery can be too hot to handle at times for the opposing defences and in the AFCON 2017 he emerged as the leading scorer for his country (he scored a hat-trick against Chad, a brace against Angola and the championship winning goal against Ghana in the final).
We generally look forward to strikers making headlines in the game of Football day in and day out but the Mali goalkeeper has Youssuf Koita has somewhat reversed the trend and thanks to an array of stunning performances this last line of defence in the Mali team has been a constant party spoiler for his oppositions.His performance in the AFCON semi finals against Guinea (where he prevented three penalties from going in, the other hitting the crossbar) totally exemplifies this fact.
Author’s take on Team Mali
With defending champions, Nigeria failing to go past the qualifying stages the hopes and aspirations of an entire football fraternity rests on these booming prodigies from Mali. A lot is at stake as not only the nation but the whole continent will look forward to those 11 youngsters who take on the field against Paraguay on the afternoon of 7th of October at DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai. As a lover of the game, I would like this team to ruffle more feathers as they have been doing off late and restore the legacy of their African neighbours. All the best Les Aigles. Fly high and soar as much as you can.