With just a point to their name going into the game, Les Lionceaux were being held to a 1-1 draw with just nine minutes left – nine minutes for them to save their campaign and avoid an early exit. It was then that Kone, whose performances had yet to reach the standard expected by Senegal’s smiling but demanding coach Joseph Koto, finally made his presence felt, slamming in the winner from close range to take his side through a Round-of-16 tie against Ukraine.
The leading scorer in the Senegalese second division this season, Kone has been beaming away ever since finding the back of the net on Saturday, a goal he celebrated by running to the touchline to hug his coach. “It was a release for him,” said Koto.
“When he scored he came to me and said: ‘Boss, I did it!’. I’ve been at him since the start because he hasn’t been showing me what I wanted. He has a very important role in our team because modern football is played on the flanks. Moussa and Ibou Wadji are so important to us and I expect a lot of them.”
A former Senegal international, Koto was a right winger in his playing days, the selfsame position in which he decided to deploy Kone at the CAF African U-20 Championships.
It is not a role to which the free-scoring Kone, who plays as an out-and-out striker for his club side Dakar Sacre-Coeur, is accustomed, as he explained: “They call me ‘Suarez’ here in the national team after the Barcelona player, Luis. I like his style and I try to copy it. People compare me to him. I watch his videos and analyse how he runs into space, how he plays and how he tries to take his chances.”
Striving for more
Koto has spotted his potential for something different, however. “Moussa is a very versatile player and we really needed someone on the right wing,” explained the persuasive coach. “He’s got pace and he’s willing to learn so we decided to play him there in the African championships. He did a great job for us and we’ve left him there.”
Koto added: “Kone is a great player but you haven’t seen what he can do yet. He has tremendous potential and he can get an awful lot better yet, but he’s also a very sensitive person, which is why he hasn’t yet produced the football I want to see from him. I hope he’s going to start growing in confidence now. I don’t want to give him any excuses and I expect a lot more of him.”
Still only 18, Kone is learning his trade but is more than ready for the challenges that lie ahead, having already overcome a few obstacles in his short career. “Starting out was very tough for me and I’ve had some really difficult moments in football,” he revealed. “I’m very happy to be playing at the World Cup but I have to say that I’ve only got this far because I’ve worked hard.
“Nobody believed in me because I was very small, but I’ve always had faith in myself and in my talent. I knew I could achieve something one day. My family has always supported me and I’m going to stay on the same path so that people can get to know me really well.”
The Olympique Marseille scouts watching Kone’s progress in New Zealand do not seem to have any issues with his height. Standing 5’9 tall, the Senegal forward even draws motivation from his relative lack of stature. “I am a little bit on the small side,” he said. “I know I am, and thinking like a small player makes me work even harder, so I’m just going to carry on thinking that way. My goal at the end of it all is to make myself known in the football world for who I am: Moussa Kone.”