Sao Tome e Principe is one of the smallest countries in Africa, made up of two main islands and numerous smaller ones, all of which cover a total area of just 1,000 square km. On the football pitch, this diminutive nation has not played a single international match since 2003.

This state of affairs is what caused the country’s Football Association to lose their right to vote at FIFA Congresses, due specifically to their not having taken part in at least two FIFA-run competitions over a period of four consecutive years, as per article 14, paragraph 4, of FIFA Statutes. The difficulty for Sao Tome e Principe now lies in rebuilding a national team as quickly as possible, while at the same time developing grass-roots football for the long term.

Elected three months ago, new Association President Idalecio Pachire paid a visit to the Home of FIFA in Zurich on 4 February 2011, where he met up with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. Following some constructive discussions, he spoke to about his future hopes and goals. Mr Pachire, can you tell us what brings you to the Home of FIFA?
Idalecio Pachire: The new regime has been in place for three months now, so we came here today to talk to President Blatter about the projects we’re running and about some of the issues we’ve encountered. We covered women’s football, futsal, youth categories and beach soccer, and we also went over our main objectives for the future.

Did you also talk about the problems that football in Sao Tome e Principe has been going through?
Yes, we did. Our main concern stems from the fact that we’re no longer able to vote as a member of FIFA, because our national team hasn’t taken part in any international or continental tournaments and qualifying matches since 2003. One of the toughest tasks we face is to therefore ensure that we have a national team that is capable of competing during the qualifying phase of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which begins in September.

How do you plan to deliver a national team of the requisite standard to Sao Tome e Principe?
We have put in place a four-year project, the goal of which is to markedly increase the number of footballers in our nation. While we may be small, there is a real potential here as far as players are concerned. But we need to start looking for them in different parts of the country. That’s why scouting and youth academies are an essential element of this project. And then there’s also the quality of our football – it needs to improve, and that’s why we’re thinking of making changes to youth and women’s competitions, as well as to the national team. All of this should provide us with a competent national side within three to four years.

Are you currently engaged in any other development projects?
One of our ongoing initiatives is the Goal Project II, which consists of building a new technical centre on the island of Principe. In development terms, it’s important that our football infrastructure is of a good standard. Another programme in the pipeline will focus on taking the game into local schools. We plan to hold talks with our government about possibly incorporating football at school level. I’m positive that it would help to improve academic results on the one hand, while enabling us to spot talented players at an early stage on the other.

Do you also intend to focus on the top players as well?
Indeed, at the top of the football pyramid, we would like to launch a centre of excellence, in which the finest players at different age levels from the men’s and women’s game would be brought together, allowing them to prepare for international fixtures in the best possible fashion.