Although Guinea were drawn into a difficult group at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile and will face three-time winners Brazil in their third game, coach Hamidou Camara is confident that his side can be one of the event's surprise teams.
The coach told FIFA.com that he believes the side can advance into the knock-out stage from a group that also includes Korea Republic and England. “Undoubtedly we are in one of the toughest groups, and everyone thinks that we will lose our three matches. I have been able to watch our opponents. Brazil are a team with good technicians, England are powerful and Korea have excellent players, who are technically gifted. But rest assured, we will adapt. In the history of the World Cup, African teams have often done well, and I am hopeful that we can play our part in continuing that tradition.”
Le Syli Cadet have thrice before appeared at the showpiece event of U-17 football, and they were in fact one of the African trailblazers in the competition, having competed at the first edition in China in 1985 and finishing fourth. In 1989 they drew all three group matches and failed to advance, while in 1995 they beat Portugal, but lost their other two matches and were knocked out.
Camara said he could not predict what style of play the team would play. “We expect tough matches, but we do not know in advance how a match will unfold. What I can tell you is that we have the awareness to adapt to the style of each opponent, so I do not have a single game system, but several. You will understand that I did not want to reveal my plans, but it is our aim to try to reach the knockout stages. Our most important game will likely be the one against South Korea on October 20 in La Serena.”
Camara's confidence has risen this year as he's had ample opportunities to work with his team. “We spent four months together, most of the time in El Jadida in Morocco. The conditions there were very, very good. We played a lot friendlies against teams from the Moroccan first and second division, as well as some youth teams. We lost just one and I believe that the results were satisfactory.”
After spending a few days in Guinea with family, the team will fly to Chile on 12 October, after an official farewell ceremony involving the head of the country. Camara said the players will then have a few days to recover from their long journey before playing their opening game against England.
The west Africans qualified for Chile courtesy of a third-place finish at the African U-17 championships in Niger, where they competed with a squad made up of predominantly locally-based players. Camara has retained all but three of the squad that beat Nigeria in the play-off game in Niger. One of those is Augustin Bangoura a talented forward who plays in France and is the only Europe-based player in the 21-man squad.
“It seemed logical to take most of the players who played in Niger to Chile. I went all over the country putting together the squad and I identified players who can help the team,” Camara explained. “Some were playing in small clubs, but they had great qualities. We worked with a lot of intensity, and the players spent much time together, getting to know each other. It was a gamble to rely mostly on local players, but I think for now, it works rather well.”
Starlets in the making
The coach is aware that some of the players could well move abroad after appearing on the world stage. “That is what we want. At the African championships, there were a lot of observers and foreign recruiters, especially Europeans. At our training camps in El Jadida, there were scouts mainly from France, Belgium, Portugal and even England. In Chile, there will be even more. I expect that some players will be asked to go to Europe.”
Asked whether leaving would be the right thing, Camara replied in the affirmative. “Some of them must go to Europe to advance their training. Europe is better equipped to do that, and it is important for them, but also for Guinean football.
"We are hosting the Cup of Nations in 2023, and these young players will be between 23 and 25 in just under eight years. Some will probably make the side then. International players must already think of the future, though at the moment I must think of the present, which is the World Cup in Chile.”