With the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 now just a matter of hours away, Abdoul Dante and Kelechi Nwakali, captains of Mali and Nigeria respectively, took time out of their busy schedules to answer some questions from enthusiastic fans using the #AskTheCaptains hashtag on FIFA's Twitter account.
FIFA.com presents the entirety of the interactive interview – made possible by you – with the skippers of the CAF African U-17 champions and reigning world champions below:
@ottmarnolasco21: Did you think that your team would get this far?
Dante: Well, we didn’t come here to make up the numbers. We proved at the African U-17 Championship that we were a good side. As African champions, we wanted to demonstrate that we could play a bit, both individually and as a team. We knew, though, that it wouldn’t be easy to reach the final and that we would need to show a lot of unity and mental strength.
Nwakali: Our objective here in Chile was to take the trophy back to Nigeria. We’ve done what needed to be done to make that possible. We’re in the final and we’re going to win.
@Supereaglescomp: What’s been the most important factor in getting you to where you are right now?
Dante: It’s definitely the mental strength I mentioned earlier. Irrespective of the opponent, situation or level of pressure, our heads never go down. Even when the other team dominates us for 90 minutes, we still believe we have a chance. This quality is something that our coach has instilled in us over the past couple of years. He keeps telling us that although we’re tired, we need to remember that our opponents are too. When you’ve got greater mental strength, you always end up winning.
Nwakali: Hard work. If you listen to your coach and you give 100 per cent, you get your rewards. We’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point.
@koolaidman2kool: How did you motivate your team-mates during the semi-final?
Dante: I was suspended, but I told them that even though I wasn’t there, we should still act as one, unified group. Although Belgium scored first, the team managed to fight back. We wanted to make history for our country.
Nwakali: Since the tournament began, we’ve always opened the scoring in our matches, but that wasn’t the case against Mexico. As captain, I tried to motivate my players as best as I could, telling them to wake up and that the game was far from over, even though we were a goal down.
@Iam_XP01: What’s the best team you’ve played against here, and which player has impressed you the most?
Dante: Croatia. They had some great players, especially their No10 (Nikola Moro) and their No7 (Josip Brekalo). They really impressed us with their attacking play – they tired us out.
Nwakali: Mexico were our most difficult opponents. I thought their two forwards, the No9 (Eduardo Aguirre) and No10 (Claudio Zamudio), were very good players. They really gave us the run-around.
@HboyTohBad: What are you planning on doing after the final?
Dante: I want to go and see my family in Bamako. After that, if there’s a possibility of signing a professional contract, then that would be the dream scenario. This competition has led to me getting a lot of offers, but I need to take one thing at a time.
Nwakali: I want to go back home, hopefully with the trophy, so that we can reflect on what we’ve accomplished, and then I’ll give some thought to my next career move.
@christianm015: Dante, what has it meant to you to lead your team to the final of the U-17 World Cup, and to go head-to-head with the best in the world?
Dante: Being here representing and captaining my country is an immense honour. I’m very happy and proud to have got this far, and I plan on going all the way. People back home in Mali have supported us from the start. This morning, we even got a call from Seydou Keita! He encouraged us, reminding us that it was the first time that Mali have been African champions and have had a chance to become world champions. He told us to keep doing what we’ve been doing, right to the end.
@Ezeh_UK: Nwakali, Mali won the African U-17 Championship, where you finished fourth. Are you afraid of playing them in the final?
Nwakali: They’re the current African champions at U-17 level. But we’re the reigning U-17 world champions. We’re not afraid of them at all, but we do respect them and realise that they will be worthy opponents.