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He is popularly known as ‘The Emperor’ but ironically Ismalia Tiemoko is the coach of Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries.

With such a background, life must be loaded with problems. Niger has a premier league, but its junior football appears to be in tatters.

“These players come from some very poor areas of the country. Some of them don’t even have clubs and we don’t have a national championship,” revealed Tiemoko, in a chat with The Hindu, at the Nehru Stadium here.

“For most of them, it is through the national team that they know what the higher level of football is.”

Still, despite the hardships back home, Niger had a lot to smile about on Saturday night after tasting victory in its FIFA under-17 World Cup debut in Kochi with a 1-0 verdict over DPR Korea.

Interestingly, there is an Indian company behind the Niger juniors’ stunning rise.

“We don’t have a nationals but fortunately, we do have a sponsor who organised a national competition for this category two years ago. That sponsor is Airtel,” revealed Tiemoko, a former Niger men’s team captain and a solid defender who got the nickname ‘The Emperor’ for his prowess in the air.

The plan now is to use the boys in India as a strong foundation for the men’s team.

“We think this team will play in the under-20 African Cup of Nations which Niger will be hosting in 2019. And now, we think our sports federation will have a technical centre and we will ask for a bigger budget,” said Tiemoko.

Niger football has come a long way since Tiemoko’s playing days.

“In our time, even finding a good football was difficult. But now, they have many things,” he said.

After clearing the first hurdle, Tiemoko feels his team has a chance against Spain in its next Group ‘D’ match on Tuesday.

“It’s true Brazil and Spain are strong but we are dealing with a lower age category, under-17 here,” he said.

“The youngsters are more or less equal and we beat Nigeria, the World champion. We think the game is open for everybody.

Stan RAYAN (The Hindu)

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