- Aissata Traore is a midfielder with Mali and En Avant de Guingamp
- Her credo: failing makes you come back stronger
- Player aiming for 2023 Women's World Cup after missing France 2019
Some defeats are harder to take than others, and Mali's 4-2 loss to Cameroon in the third-place match at the 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations was certainly one of those. Not only did Les Aigles miss out on place on the continental podium, but they saw their dream of an historic qualification for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ go up in smoke.
"That one really stuck in my throat. We committed everything to that game and wanted that ticket so badly. We all dreamed of qualifying for that World Cup, alas we know what happened next..." lamented forward Aissata Traore to FIFA.com. "We lacked experience that day, with many of us were playing our first AFCON. But this defeat will only make us better."
The 23-year-old Malian midfielder is speaking from experience. As fate would have it, coming back stronger after setbacks could be her leitmotif. While Mali failed in their quest to secure a place in France, Aissata Traore still managed to get to the Hexagon, specifically Guingamp, where she has been playing her club football since October last year.
"It’s allowed me to personally make up for missing the World Cup. I couldn't go with my national team, so I went on my own," she explained. "Playing in France is a dream come true. I promised myself that one day I’d play against Wendie Renard, who is a role model for me. And it happened. I even had my picture taken with her after a game last season."
First malaria then Covid
That said, the path that took her from Turkey, where she played in 2018/19, to the manicured pitches of the French topflight, was fraught with pitfalls. Not long after her arrival in Brittany in October 2019, the Malian came down with malaria, which greatly delayed her debut. "It put me out of action and I lost 4kg. Moreover, I was far from my family, far from everything ... I wasn’t yet accustomed to France and my new life. It was difficult, but I got over it," she said.
After returning to fitness Traore was enjoying a rich vein of form. In February, she played five consecutive games for the first time, scoring three goals in the process. But an even bigger obstacle soon stood in her way: "The Coronavirus pandemic hit just when I was finally up and running," she explained. "I just had to grin and bear it, being far from those dearest to me. It was hard, I cried a lot, but today it's obviously getting better. Getting back on the pitch helps."
Indeed the midfielder knows better than anyone the importance of just playing. Born in Bamako in 1997, Traore had to fight to convince people she could make a career in football in a country that has long been conservative on the issue. "I learned to play football on the streets with friends from the neighbourhood. But it was frowned upon in Mali for girls to play the game. My own mother didn't want me to play; she wanted to protect me from insults. I was often singled out because I was playing a boy's sport," she revealed.
"However, my father has always supported me in my passion. He kept saying that if he himself didn't mind me playing football, then no one else should mind either. Without him I wouldn’t be here today. I think he's very proud of what I've now become," the player added.
In France for the experience
What father wouldn't be proud of such a daughter? Aissata Traore's exploits with Mali and EAG are both remarkable and remarked upon. Today, she is the figurehead of a discipline that is growing in Mali. "I don’t think I'm a star, far from it, but I sometimes get recognised in the street," she admitted coyly.
Potentially, Traore could further cement an already-fine reputation by helping her side qualify for the next Women's World Cup in 2023. "That's the goal! We’ll get the chance to redeem ourselves" she said before concluding: "I intend to accrue experience in France and put it at the disposition of my country!"
Aissata Traore in brief
Favourite female player? Wendy Renard
Favourite male player? Andres Iniesta and Kylian Mbappe
Favourite position? Left wing! I'm right-footed, but I like to cut inside and send in crosses or curling shots
Favourite team? FC Barcelona
Dream? Playing at a World Cup, winning trophies, playing in the Champions League, winning the Africa Cup!
Shirt number? No14, the date of my mother's birthday.
Favourite dish? Thieb – an African dish made with rice and vegetables
Hobbies? Reading, going to the cinema and PlayStation
Secret? I have a twin called Aissatou, who I talk to on the phone every day