While the victorious Nigerians joyously raced about the Estadio Sausalito in Vina Del Mar, celebrating their second successive FIFA U-17 World Cup title, the Malian players collapsed to the turf, devastated to have lost Sunday’s final. Among them, Boubacar Traore appeared the most affected by the defeat.

The distraught attacker remained face down on the ground for quite some time, prior to be being pulled to his feet by Baye Ba, coach of Les Aiglonnets. “He just passed on some words of comfort. He told me that everything would be all right,” the player in question, his eyes still red from crying, informed FIFA.com outside the Mali dressing room.

His disappointment was twofold, stemming not just from his inability to find a way past a miserly Nigerian defence, but also from the shattering of his dream and that of his entire country. “We wanted to win. We wanted to take the trophy back home with us. I’m sorry for Mali,” he said in a voice full of emotion, as his team-mates traipsed in silence towards the exits.

Beaten by a better team
Although they arrived in Chile as African champions, the Malians were still keen to test themselves at a global event. It did not take long for them to realise that they were not at all out of place.

“Something huge happened when we beat Honduras 3-0 in the group stage,” explained the young No11. “It was at that point that we began saying out loud that we could go all the way to the final. We worked so hard to get there, but Nigeria brought us back to reality. We really wanted to win the U-17 World Cup.”

Although the Golden Eaglets only finished fourth at the 2015 CAF African U-17 Championship, they demonstrated on Sunday that they remain untouchable on the world stage. “They were quite simply better than us, that’s all. They stopped us from playing our usual game,” said Traore, who admitted to being impressed by the play of Kelechi Nwakali, recipient of the adidas Golden Ball award.

Despite his disappointment, the Malian front man, who scored two goals and produced one assist at Chile 2015, tried his best to look beyond the result. “I’ve really learned a lot here, from the coaching staff, my team-mates – who are also my friends – and our opponents as well. I want to work hard and earn the opportunity to play with the U-20 team, and then with the senior side,” said the ambitious 17-year-old.

Asked about the team’s return to Mali, he managed to put on a brave face and look at the positive side of their adventure. “People know us back home because of our victory at the African U-17 Championship,” he pointed out.

“We’re going home tomorrow and we’ll be welcomed like returning heroes, because it’s the first time that Mali have ever reached the final of a World Cup at any level. It’s massively encouraging for the future of Malian football.”