Niger seeking to avoid ridicule on Nations Cup debut

Niger striker Moussa Maazou
Moussa Maazou is likely to be a key player for Niger at the Africa Cup of Nations

Niger coach Harouna Doula has said his team of debutants are determined to avoid ridicule and progress from their group at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The Mena face a tough task in Group C, with fixtures against co-hosts Gabon and North Africans Tunisia and Morocco.

But Doula thinks his players - who surprised many by qualifying for the Nations Cup - are up to the task.

"For our very first tournament, we want to do well and not be ridiculed," he told BBC Sport.

"This is our first time and we want to progress.

"We are in the group of death - with one of the co-hosts and strong North African sides Morocco and Tunisia.

"We will try to advance."

Niger qualified for the tournament - which begins in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon on Saturday - at Egypt and South Africa's expense.

The achievement led to Doula being named the Confederation of African Football's Coach of the Year.

And Doula sees the Mena's participation as an opportunity to further Niger's ambitions on the continental stage.

"We want to use it to develop our football," he said.

"All the players are playing in their first Africa Cup of Nations so there is a lot they can learn from the tournament."

The team spent the last two weeks in Cameroon preparing for the Nations Cup, and Doula is happy with his squad's build-up ahead of their first game against the co-hosts on Monday in Libreville.

"We [were] in Douala to acclimatise for the finals, since conditions are the same as Libreville," Doula said.

"We've used these two weeks to have a good preparation for the Nations Cup."

Niger's key player for the finals is likely to be striker Moussa Maazou, who plays for Belgian side Zulte Waregem, following previous stints at CSKA Moscow and Bordeaux.

Maazou also scored the winning goal against Egypt in Niamey in October 2010 to help set up Niger's surprise qualification.