Souleymane Coulibaly would seem to have every reason to be happy with life at the moment. After all, the young Ivorian has struck five goals in two outings at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011, four of them coming in a crucial win over Denmark on Thursday.
“I want to thank all my team-mates and my family, who have supported me all the way here,” he told FIFA.com in the wake of his one-man demolition of the Danes. Yet, as the self-effacing Coulibaly went on to explain, events back home in war-torn Côte d’Ivoire have lent special significance to the Young Elephants’ Mexico 2011 campaign, prompting him to put the national quest for unity above personal achievement: “It’s nice to get praise, but this is just as much a special day for my country as it is for me.”
The internal strife and bloodshed that has engulfed the African state in recent months forced him and his team-mates to undertake their Mexico 2011 preparations far from home, including a lengthy stay in France. And as the country attempts to heal its wounds, the Young Elephants are doing their bit to aid the recovery process, turning in a performance that had Denmark coach Thomas Frank tipping them as serious candidates for the world title.
Now the tournament’s leading scorer, Coulibaly is central to Côte d’Ivoire’s hopes of beating the world’s best. Resident in Italy since 2009, the 16-year-old divides his time between school and the game he loves. He joined newly promoted Serie A side Siena earlier this year after being spotted at a regional tournament. And judging by his efforts so far in Mexico, the Tuscans seem to have made an excellent investment, although Coulibaly can expect more suitors to come his way should he maintain his rich form.
“This isn’t the right time to talk about what the future might hold,” he said, damping down any speculation. “The best thing I can do right now is focus on the World Cup. Then we’ll see what happens.”
Rampant against the Danes, the west Africans were also impressive in their opening Group F match, a narrow 2-1 defeat to Australia, in which Coulibaly opened the scoring. There is more to their game than their free-scoring centre-forward, however. Victorien Angban and Jean-Eudes Aholou are both cultured ball-playing midfielders, while the mazy running of Lionel Lago and Drissa Diarrassouba gives them an additional cutting edge up front and provides the prolific Coulibaly with a steady supply of chances.
In response to the problems the Ivorians were causing his defence, Frank was forced to make a tactical change in the second-half of Thursday’s game, switching from a 4-4-2 formation to 3-5-2 in a bid to counter the threat posed by Coulibaly, the scorer of a quick-fire first-half hat-trick.
His opportunistic finishing against the Danes did not go unnoticed by Brazil’s spies, who were running the rule over the Africans ahead of their closing group game on Sunday. And when he came off in injury time the Siena striker received a standing ovation from the Mexican neutrals in the stands. Not that the adulation is going to his head: “I scored those goals thanks to my team-mates and we always support each other when times get tough.”
FIFA.com caught up with the four-goal hero again the day after, sharing a brief word with him following a team workout at the training ground of local club Estudiantes. And though Coulibaly no doubt had his mind on Brazil, he was still keeping the bigger picture in view: “My message is one of peace, for the war to come to an end and for everyone to work towards that goal.”