February 07, 2019

The Success Stories of Francis Uzoho and Moussa Wague

From Al Kass Triumph in 2014 to the 2018 FIFA World Cup

It was January 23, 2014, when the U17 sides of Real Madrid and Aspire International faced each other in the final of the Al Kass International Cup in Doha. After the game ended 1-1, a penalty shoot-out had to decide the winner. Moussa Wague, Aspire’s young defender, was the first one to step up for his team and he kept a cool head and scored from the spot. In the end, it was up to his team-mate and goalkeeper Francis Uzoho to clinch the victory by saving Javier Carrera’s shot and securing the 4-3 win after penalties.

Both Wague and Uzoho had proven throughout the 2014 Al Kass International Cup, that they were able to deal with pressure and to make the right decisions in challenging situations. Attributes that would be beneficial in their future careers and especially when both of them had their international breakthrough representing their respective countries, Senegal and Nigeria, at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Former Aspire Football Dreams goalkeeper Uzoho, who was part of the Nigerian national team that won the U17 FIFA World Cup in 2013, made his debut in the 2018 FIFA World Cup starting in the 2-0 defeat of his home country in their first group match against Croatia, where he was only beaten by an unlucky own goal by Etebo (32’) and a Modric penalty (71’). In the final minute of the game, Uzoho produced another great save against Real Madrid’s Kovacic.

The 19-year-old keeper was the fourth youngest player in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and he also started in Nigeria’s 2-0 win against Iceland and the 1-2 defeat by Argentina. 

Uzoho, who was born on October 28, 1998 in Nwangele, originally started as a striker before putting on the goalkeeper gloves at the age of 12. After being part of Aspire Football Dreams from 2013 to 2017, he joined La Liga club Deportivo de La Coruna’s reserve team, where he impressed enough to be moved up to the senior team where he kept a clean sheet on his debut in a match which ended in a goalless draw against Eibar on October 15, 2017. At the age of 18 years and 352 days, he became the youngest ever foreign goalkeeper to make his debut in La Liga, and the second-youngest player to appear in the league during the campaign, only behind Real Madrid's Achraf Hakimi, who had actually played in the 2014 and 2015 editions of the Al Kass International Cup and who also played all three games for Morocco at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Via Belgium to FC Barcelona

While Uzoho, who made his debut for Nigeria's senior team against Argentina on November 14, 2017, joined Segunda División side Elche CF on loan after returning from Russia, his former Aspire International team-mate Wague took a detour to Spain. By the time of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Wague played for KAS Eupen, having joined the Belgium club that is owned by Aspire Zone Foundation, in 2016 after coming out of the AFD-program.

His profile continued to rise in Russia. By scoring for Senegal in a 2-2 against Japan, Wague became the youngest African goal scorer in the history of World Cup finals, at the age of only 19 years and 263 days. Playing in all games for Senegal in the group stage against Poland (1-2), Japan (2-2) and Columbia (0-1), many clubs expressed an interest in signing the promising young defender.

As had always been the dream of Wague to play for FC Barcelona, Aspire Zone-owned club KAS Eupen and FC Barcelona agreed a transfer of the Senegalese, who kicked off his new chapter in Spain in the 2018-19 season by playing games for the club’s B-team. As a potential player for Barcelona’s first team, the right-back has also been registered as a part of the UEFA Champions League squad for the knockout fixtures, starting with the Round of 16 game against Lyon in February 2019.

Memories of the 2014 Al Kass International Cup

Undoubtedly, many things have happened in the careers of Wague and Uzoho since they celebrated winning the Al Kass trophy together in 2014. Successfully making the step into professional football, taking on the challenge of going abroad to play in Europe and, of course, being in the world’s spotlight at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia – these are just some of their achievements after Al Kass. Nonetheless, according to both players, the experience they made competing in Doha five years ago was a very valuable one.

“We thought it was spectacular and we were quite excited to get the chance to play against teams from all over the world. Real Madrid from Spain, Fluminense from Brazil or Aspire Academy from Qatar, all teams were completely different, but each one of us gave his best and we were up to the challenge,” says Wague.

Uzoho also remembers the great team spirit within the group. “Everyone was very focused, everyone knew what he had to do on the pitch and we helped each other in the game as good as we could. Some might say that winning the final in a penalty shoot was lucky, but we had beaten Real Madrid already in the group stage and we knew that we would have a chance to beat them again in the final, if we showed the same focus and determination as in the games before.”

Did this tournament have an effect on their future careers? According to Wague, it definitely did. “It was a big stage for us, the environment was very professional, the competition level was very high. Winning this cup definitely showed us that we can compete with some of the world’s best and that was definitely very motivating for all of us to keep on working hard in order to make our dreams come true to play one day on a big stage as professional footballers.” And there is not much stage bigger than a FIFA World Cup…