There is a first for everything. The FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 will see Niger make their debut on the world stage, having never previously appeared at a FIFA competition in any age group.
Following their 1-0 defeat of Niger in the first leg of their second round qualifier for the 2017 CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations, two-time reigning world champions Nigeria would have been confident that their experience would take them through to the next round. They reckoned without Abdoul Karim Tinni Sanda’s 90th-minute strike in the return leg, however, a goal that gave Niger a shock aggregate win. The Junior Menas backed up that performance by going on to reach the last four of the continental finals, a surprise run that secured them a place at India 2017. The Nigeriens did not have it easy against Africa’s finest, drawing 2-2 with Angola in their opening group match in Gabon before losing 1-0 to Mali. That left them needing to beat Tanzania to advance to the semis, a task they achieved thanks to Ibrahim Boubacar Marou’s solitary goal. Beaten 6-5 on penalties by Ghana after a goalless semi-final, Niger then went down 3-1 to Guinea in the match for third place, though they had already achieved their lofty objective by then.
Tiemogo Soumaila was already a hero of Nigerien football even before leading the Junior Menas to India 2017. A former captain of the senior national team, Soumaila was a defender noted for his solidity on the ground and his prowess in the air, qualities that earned him the nickname 'The Emperor'. A physical education and sports teacher, on account of football being an amateur sport in Niger at the time, he took up coaching after retiring from the game, taking courses in Europe and Brazil before being appointed Niger’s national director of football in 1995. The 1990s also saw him occupy the role of head coach. Now 54, he combines his duties as Niger’s U-17 coach with his post as the head of the Atcha Academie training centre.
1 - This is the first time Niger have qualified for a World Cup finals competition and it will most likely not be the last. A number of development programmes have been implemented in the country in recent years, while a new national academy – funded by the FIFA Goal Project – was opened by President Gianni Infantino in March 2017.