- Kassaly Daouda is Niger's first-choice goalkeeper
- Veteran custodian also the country’s most-capped player
- Aiming to add to his tally on the road to Qatar
A youthful wind is sweeping over Niger’s footballing landscape. Three years ago, the country's youngsters made history by qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017™, marking the first appearance on the global stage of a Nigerien national team. These promising young talents are now 20 and knocking on the door of the senior team, suggesting a brighter future for a country hitherto underrepresented at major events.
"Compared to Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon or Côte d'Ivoire, it is true that Niger is not as big a footballing country," Kassaly Daouda told FIFA.com. "That said, we still have players who don't do too badly! We’ve always been capable of producing shocks in competitive games, and our current crop of talented youngsters would suggest the best is yet to come for the team."
And it is not just anyone making that prediction – with Daouda enjoying nothing short of legendary status in Niger. The evergreen Mena goalkeeper has won 70 caps across an 18-year international career, including fine displays at the 2012 and 2013 CAF Africa Cups of Nations, which he described as "his best memories with the national team". And while the current Niger team is definitely getting younger, the 1.91m keeper does not feel he is being sidelined – despite his 36 years. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"To be the most-capped player in my country’s history makes me very proud," he said. "And I'm going to pick up a few more caps! I don't really try to quantify what I've brought to Nigerien football, but some of my international team-mates call me 'The Legend'. Maybe that says something!"
That actually says quite a lot. With his experience and shot-stopping qualities, Kassaly still has a lot to contribute. He demonstrated his brilliance again last November in a CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, restricting the mighty Côte d'Ivoire to a solitary Franck Kessie goal – and that from the penalty spot.
"Physically, it's easier for a goalkeeper to have a longer playing career," Daouda said. "So, if mentally the hunger and enjoyment are still there, then why stop? Pulling on the Niger jersey still fills me with enormous pride. Even after all these appearances, I still get goosebumps whenever I hear the national anthem."
Sights set on Qatar
The keeper’s continued passion is certainly welcome, given the challenging international fixtures on the horizon. Drawn in a tough Group A in the second round of African qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, Niger face Algeria and Burkina Faso, who Daouda describes as "two big fish", as well as Djibouti, "who we know less about, but still need to be wary of".
In all probability, Daouda will be involved in these fixtures: "I’m counting on it. If I’m called upon, I’ll be there. It’s a very enticing prospect. Moreover, I have the next generation to prepare."