- Malick Daf is the coach of Senegal’s U-17 team
- The Africans are set to make their tournament debut at Brazil 2019
- Daf has already experienced a youth-level World Cup, at New Zealand 2015
No other continent has performed better than Africa at the FIFA U-17 World Cup™. In fact, in 17 editions of the illustrious event, African nations have lifted the trophy on no fewer than seven occasions (Nigeria five times, Ghana twice). But Senegal, traditional continental heavyweights, have never played at the tournament before. Until now.
“This is a major event,” Senegal coach Malick Daf told FIFA.com. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work to get to where we are now. It was a long and difficult road, but we managed to qualify, and we can’t hide what a pleasure it is to be here.”
Indeed, the 2019 U-17 World Cup qualifying campaign was certainly not a walk in the park for Daf’s men. While their results at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations were acceptable, with two draws secured against Morocco (1-1) and Cameroon (0-0), their presence in Brazil is partly due to the disqualification of Guinea. But the qualifiers are now behind them, and Senegal are approaching the upcoming challenge in South America with quiet confidence.
“We’ve come to Brazil with our feet on the ground, but we’re not lacking in ambition either," said Daf, visibly looking forward to his charges’ Group D duels with United States, Japan and the Netherlands. “We’re getting ready to face some of the best teams at the tournament, and we’ll try to play our cards right so that we can put in some solid performances.”
Did you know?
Malick Daf wears two hats. As well as overseeing Senegal’s U-17s, he also fulfils the role of coach at Jaraaf Dakar, Senegal’s most successful football club.
Inspired by U-20 success
Daf is no stranger to exceeding expectations on the global stage: although this is a first for Senegal at this particular age category, the former midfielder was Joseph Koto’s assistant at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2015. In their tournament debut in New Zealand, the West Africans reached the semi-finals, which remains the best performance by a Senegalese team in a FIFA competition.
“That type of experience leaves you with excellent memories,” said Daf. “What we achieved was historic. Joseph Koto is one of the coaches who had the greatest impact on me, because of his competence, discipline, listening ability and generosity. We enjoyed some great times. Why shouldn’t we experience some more in Brazil?”
Senegal do appear to have the right weapons for a potentially successful campaign. First, they have a man in charge who is, in his own words, “more mature, calmer, and more relaxed, but with the same desire to win." Second, their squad features players who are capable of springing a surprise, like Aliou Badara Balde, described by his national coach as “pacey, daring, unselfish, clinical in front of goal, and more technically gifted than most."
Against USA on Sunday, both Daf and his highly rated players will finally have a chance to show what they are made of.