“It’s a fantastic showcase, one that helps the kids get their names known around the world. Look at [Yassine] Benzia. He joined the team just before the World Cup and now he’s attracting the attention of several clubs thanks to his performances here.”
Speaking in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, France coach Patrick Gonfalone highlighted the impact that the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 could well have for his young striker, the scorer of five goals along with Brazilian duo Ademilson and Adryan, one less than Germany’s Samed Yesil.
All of them were outdone, however, by Côte d’Ivoire’s Souleymane Coulibaly, who has pressed his claims for international stardom more effectively than anyone by scoring nine goals to pocket the adidas Golden Boot and equal the tournament record set by France’s Florent Sinama Pongolle at Trinidad and Tobago 2001.
“This is not the time to talk about what the future holds for me,” Coulibaly told FIFA.com after his side had been knocked out by France in the round of 16, a game in which he completed his competition haul. “I’m grateful for the praise, and both my country and I had some special moments here. The defenders left a bit of space and I made the most of it to score my goals.”
The powerfully built striker’s achievement was made all the more notable by the fact that his team’s preparations for the competition were hampered by the civil unrest that has plagued Côte d’Ivoire in recent months, forcing the squad to train far away from home.
Coulibaly did his bit to heal wounds by scoring goals, opening his account against Australia in the Ivorians’ first game before helping himself to four against Denmark and then scoring a magnificent hat-trick against Brazil, a tour de force that underlined both his touch on the ball and his fearsome shooting skills.
In doing so the modest goal-getter never lost sight of the bigger picture, expressing his hopes for peace in his country and extolling the virtues of his team-mates. “I’m never going to stop thanking them,” he told the official website of the Ivorian Football Association before his side’s 3-2 defeat to France. “It’s thanks to them that I became the hero of the first round. There are 11 players in a football team and I’d be nothing on the pitch without them. I couldn’t score goals without their understanding.”
The 16-year-old has come a long way in announcing himself to the world at Mexico 2011, having arrived in Italy two years ago to join his father, who had married an Italian national. After impressing in local competitions, he earned a place in Siena’s youth teams, where his performances won him a place in the Elephants squad for Mexico 2011, all this after missing out on selection for the African championship.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” added Coulibaly, fighting back the tears. “I’ve scored goals at my club, and hit a few hat-tricks too. But it’s not the same to do it at a World Cup. It’s a wonderful feeling.”