Guinea rise beyond Ebola nightmare

  • The Ebola virus killed 2,543 people in Guinea

  • The Guinean national football team qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup after a 38-year absence

  • Guinea will play their opening match against the hosts, Korea Republic

The Guinean population lived through a veritable ordeal between 2014 and 2016, with an outbreak of the Ebola virus causing 2,543 deaths. The epidemic had a huge impact on the economy of the country, as well as on its sporting sphere, with football clubs and national sides were forced to play their games outside of the country to prevent the disease from spreading further, until the situation was brought under control in mid-2016.

Guineans are unlikely to ever forget those troubling times, but their love of football motivated them to keep playing the sport, despite the trying circumstances. Subsequently, Guinea’s U-20 side succeeded in qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017. Their coach, Mandjou Diallo, told that it was a “real achievement, especially as Guinea has suffered greatly with the Ebola virus”.

“Fortunately, we were relatively safe in Conakry, compared to the central and forested regions,” explained the man at the helm of the young Syli National. “And then there was the area that borders Sierra Leone, where the epidemic struck hard. In Conakry, we continued to train and build a great team, one that could qualify for the U-20 World Cup. And it’s not just about us, because the U-17 team is about to take part in the Cup of Nations. In three or four years, our young players will be even better."

Contribution of clubs Diallo is keen to recognise the significant amount of development work put in by the Guinean clubs, particularly at grassroots level. “We have to pay tribute to the people running Guinean football, particularly the presidents of Horoya, AS Kaloum and Hafia.

“They have given their teams financial backing, and because of that, we’ve managed to attract players from Mali, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Horoya have taken part in continental competitions and have helped to gradually return Guinean football to its rightful place among Africa’s top nations. The clubs’ efforts have played a part in building our U-20 team and helping it to reach the World Cup.”

Challenges ahead The official draw saw the West Africans paired up with Korea Republic for their first match in Group A. “Everyone agrees that we were placed in the ‘group of death’, as they say, because we’ll be facing world-class teams,” said Diallo. “Our opening match against the hosts – in front of their fans – will be tough, and we’ll have to be very careful and mentally strong. Korean players and Asians in general are often quick and alert, and we’ll have to be physically prepared for them.”

For their second fixture of the tournament, the Guineans will lock horns with England, a powerhouse at this level. “We know the British game quite well – it relies on counter-attacks and attacking transitions. If we’re not at our best, physically and tactically, we’ll be in deep trouble.”

Did you know?

  • Guinea have not appeared at the tournament since Japan 1979, the competition's second edition, but failed to pick up a point in their first visit

  • They qualified for the U-20 World Cup after reaching the semi-finals of the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations

  • Zambia, Senegal and South Africa join them in representing Africa at Korea Republic 2017

Guinea’s third and final opponents are Argentina. “Argentinian football is a lot like Brazilian football,” said Diallo. “There’s a huge emphasis on skill and players’ individual attributes. But Guinean footballers are also known for their technique – our nickname is even the 'Brazilians of Africa’, like Ghana.

“During the Cup of Nations, everyone was impressed by the ability of our players. The main danger for us is the level that our opponents are capable of playing at: Argentina has players who are already performing in top and second divisions, and they will cause us problems. But if we prepare well and have the right mental attitude, we can do the same to them.”

Diallo knows that if the groundwork is laid in advance, his charges’ prospects at the U-20 World Cup will markedly increase. “We have to be ready for this tournament; our chances depend on how well we prepare,” he said. “Those in charge of Guinean football and youth development in particular are putting together a programme that will give us every chance of competing well. If we play our cards right, we can emulate what Mali did in 2015.”