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Football | Afcon

Mena bank on experience



Niger have retained 16 players from the last African Nations Cup in their squad of 23 named earlier this week for this month's finals in South Africa.

They face Mali, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Group B.

Niger made their debut in the continental championship last year but exited the tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon early without a point.

In this year's tournament they are determined to do better. Their first match is on Jan. 20 against Mali in Port Elizabeth.

Although they are one of the weaker teams in west Africa, Niger have produced some noteworthy victories, including a 1-0 shock win against Egypt in a 2010 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.

Known as Mena, the Niger national team beat Guinea in a return leg to secure their place at AFCON 2013.

With no foreign based star players, assistant coach Jacky Bonnevay said each player would be equally responsible for the team's performance.

"We don't have stars in this team. We must be united. Unity will be the strength of this team as it was its strength against Guinea, which was not an easy team to win. We have been lucky to have the players at our disposal quite often, we have been able to work well," he said.

Their qualification has emboldened and motivated veteran players like Abdoulkarim Konate who believes victory is possible.

"The first time, we went to Gabon for our first CAN. We went to discover. So, we have seen our weaknesses and our qualities. Now, for our second time, we are not going to watch, we are going to try to confirm (compete)," he said.

Mena's long history of financial problems has forced them to withdraw from several international tournaments in the past.

Fundraising events like one organised by high school students in Niamey have been held in various parts of the country to raise money for the national team.

Niger's soccer governing body, led by Djibilla Hima, has thrown its support behind Mena, calling them the "underdogs" of the tournament.

"Everybody knows that we don't have big professionals in our team, we don't have individuals. We have a collective, we have boys who are learning, who want to fight. We are going to work on this," said Hima.

"Our team is big enough. We have the basis. We have the national support. We only lack a little bit of technique, said Abdelnasser Moumouni, a student and fan.

Keeping Ghana's Black Stars on their toes, Niger will be fielding lead striker Koffi Dankwa who switched his nationality in order to play international soccer and helped the team qualify for their first ever AFCON tournament in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Toldo Alzouma (Garde Nationale), Daouda Kassaly (Chippa United), Rabo Saminou (Sahel SC)

Defenders: Ismael Alassane (Mangasport), Mohamed Bachar (AS Douanes), Mohamed Chicoto (AS Marsa), Kourouma Fatokouma (Chabab Al Hociema), Lucky James (AS Douanes), Koffi Dan Kowa (ES Zarzis), Kader Amadou Dodo (Olympic), Issiaka Koudize (Garde Nationale), Mohamed Soumaila (Olympic)

Midfielders: Moutari Amadou (FC Mans), Issoufou Boubacar (unattached), Karim Lancina (unattached), Abdoul Idrissa Laouali (Mangasport), William Ngounou (IF Limhamn Bunkeflo), Souleymane Sakou (Olympic), Boubacar Talatou (Thanda Royal Zulu)

Forwards: Issoufou Alhassane (Wydad Fes), Kamilou Daouda (JS Saoura), Moussa Maazou (Etoile Sahel), Modibo Sidibe (unattached).

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