- *Shock after team-mate suffers cruciate ligament tear shortly before U-17 World Cup *
- *Dreaming of U-17 World Cup title and top scorer's crown *
- *Fan of legendary striker Didier Drogba *
"Ever since the European Championship I've been thinking about India," Malik Karaahmet told FIFA.com, underlining just how special a challenge the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 India represents for him. On 16 May 2017, Turkey were knocked out of the UEFA U-17 EURO following a 2-1 defeat to England in the semi-finals. But having booked their place at the global showdown, the next objective is already in sight. There are now only 40 days left until the tournament kicks off in India and the young striker from German third division club Karlsruher SC can hardly wait for it to start.
"We send each other messages every day in our WhatsApp group and we keep each other updated," said Karaahmet, who also found out some bad news via the group chat he has with team-mates. "Unfortunately our No6 Hasan Adiguzel tore his cruciate ligament a couple of days ago and he'll miss the tournament. It makes us all very sad and it's a bitter blow."
*Passion and discipline the keys to success *Speaking to Karaahmet, who was born in Wiesbaden but has Turkish roots, it becomes apparent just how professional and focused he is. The injury suffered by his team-mate is a setback, but it does not appear as if it will throw either him or his team off track as the U-17 World Cup draws ever closer: "Personally I look after my body and my diet even more now. I'll give everything to really be 100 per cent fit when I fly to the competition. You don't get a chance like this very often so I'm going to give it everything I've got."
Turkey will not be among the title favourites in India, but neither were they prior to the U-17 European Championship in Croatia. "Not many people thought we'd get to the semi-finals at the EURO but we still managed it," Karaahmet said. The 5'9" (1.76m) striker played a significant role in that achievement, scoring three goals in five games. "I'd like to get a lot of goals at the World Cup too," said the right-footed attacker. "It'd be great to compete for the top scorer's crown and help my team be successful."
Reaching the last four in India would be a huge accomplishment, but privately the 17-year-old has another target in mind: "Obviously it'd be a dream to win the World Cup with Turkey." The first step along the way will be to progress from Group B, where they will meet Paraguay, Mali and New Zealand.
*Knockout rounds in sight *"We can't take anything for granted," said Karaahmet, an avid Instagram user. "Paraguay are a powerful and dynamic side. Mali, as an African team, are traditionally very athletic, so maybe New Zealand are the unknown quantity in the group. But we want to show right from the off that we have big plans at the tournament."
It is precisely that self-confidence, which at no point veered into arrogance or cockiness during the interview with FIFA.com, that Karaahmet believes is his side's greatest asset: "Our strengths are without doubt our desire and fighting spirit. Obviously tactical and technical aspects also play a role, but in terms of passion and belief in our own ability, we're second to none."
On a personal level his passion is for Didier Drogba. As a child Karaahmet's bedroom was full of posters of the former Côte d'Ivoire striker, who plays a huge role in his professional life too: "For me it's all about Drogba, he's my inspiration. I've seen his documentaries, I follow him on social media and I watch his playing style very closely."
Karaahmet is well aware that he still has a lot of work to do if he is to one day emulate the success of his hero. "I'm currently working on my left foot and my acceleration as my ratings weren't too high in those attributes on FIFA 17," said the enthusiastic gamer. Yet just like Drogba, Karaahmet is very strong physically and in the air.
His immediate aims are clear, then: win the U-17 World Cup, be in contention for the top scorer's award and improve his ratings in FIFA 18.
Turkey's fixtures in India 6 October: New Zealand – Turkey
*9 October: Turkey – Mali
*12 October: Turkey – Paraguay