Young Africans (Yanga) goalkeeper Djigui Diarra has twice come close to winning a continental title with the Malian national team but in both, his side fell at the last hurdle.
He was in Mali's team that lost to DR Congo in the final of the 2016 TotalEnergies Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) and also skippered the team that lost in the final of the same tournament in 2020 to Morocco.
Diarra was also in the Malian team that reached the semi-finals of the 2015 FIFA U20 World Cup in New Zealand, where they ended up finishing third after beating Senegal in the play-off.
Now, the former Stade Malien shot stopper wants to make amends with his club Yanga, as they prepare to face Algerian outfit USM Alger in the final of the TotalEnergies CAF Confederation Cup. The first leg will be played in Dar es Salaam on Sunday while the return fixture will be in Algiers next weekend.
Diarra, who has been a key member of the Yanga side with five clean sheets in the competition, spoke to CAFOnline on his team's ambitions and how ready they are to face the Algerians.
Q. What does it mean for you personally to play in this final and go for the title?
I lost a final twice in the CHAN tournament with Mali and today, I find myself playing in another CAF final. I am very happy and proud to be here once again and my ambition and driving factor is the eagerness to erase the failures in those two previous finals.
We have a very strong unit from the coach to the technical staff and my teammates and everyone has played a crucial role for us to be here. This is an important competition for us and we are counting on each other to lead the team to victory.
Winning this competition for each individual player is also a huge plus for them to try win a place in the national team.
Q. How can you describe Yanga's journey so far in the competition?
It has been a great journey to be honest and all of us are proud of this achievement to be in the final. It has been a collective team effort. Everyone understands his role in the team and they do their job well. For me, I am a goalkeeper and I have a very important role to play to inspire confidence in my team. It is the same for others as well. What has driven us this far is the unity in the team on and off the pitch.
We have enjoyed the journey and we keep pushing each other to achieve something.
Q. You play against USM Alger of Algeria in this final and you start at home. How have you prepared for this game as a team?
We have been working and preparing very well since our semi-final match. We have the chance to write history for Tanzanian football and that is what inspires us. We are starting the first leg at home and we must do everything to get a win here in Dar es Salaam. The crucial thing will be to keep a clean sheet.
We are also counting on our supporters to push us in the stadium. We know we are facing a very tough team and we should be very well concentrated throughout the game with less mistakes.
Q. Can Yanga go all the way and win the title?
Yes, absolutely. I believe we can. We are all united as a team from the players to the technical staff, the management and the fans, for this one goal which is to achieve victory in the final. We have come a long way so far and we want to crown this journey with the glory of the title. We are determined and you can even see it in training. Everyone is focused and ready to battle.
Q. You have won back-to-back league titles since arriving in Tanzania and now you have helped the team reach the final of the CAF CC. Just how massive has this been for you?
I am really delighted to have won back to back titles because naturally I am a competitor and I love to win. Before coming here, I won four consecutive league titles with Stade Malien and it was important that I continue to win with my new club. It has given me a lot of confidence especially this year where we will play in a Continental final.
Q. What is Yanga's secret to success and what is the driving force, for the last two seasons?
We have a very good coach and he knows how to give everyone confidence. We also have a very good technical staff who communicate really well with the players. There is a good atmosphere in the team and what has driven us to success more is the desire to win and we take every match as a final.
Q. It has been almost two years since you arrived in Tanzania. How would you describe Tanzanian football and the fans in general?
I really like Tanzanian football. The Championship is really exciting and competitive. What I like more here is the football atmosphere especially on Match Day. The fans are really committed to the team and they have pushed us really well. We also have a very good team with a good coach and I have really loved my stay here.
Q. What inspired you to join Yanga?
Before joining Yanga, I was in South Africa. The club president contacted me directly and explained to me his vision and ambition for the club. I fell in love with the project and that is what convinced me to come.
Q. Looking back at your career from when you started, are you proud and pleased with the progress so far?
Definitely yes. I started playing football in the street like everyone else and as an outfield player before I eventually became a goalkeeper and joined Stade Mallien. My dad was a footballer as well, though not known like me, and my three brothers also play football.
We had difficulties especially when growing up because we couldn't afford many things because even at the training centre, you need to pay. But all these difficulties pushed me to work more and I am proud that the fruits are beginning to bear.
Djigui Diarra bio:
Date of birth - 27 February 1995
Place of birth - Bamako, Mali
Height - 1.79 m
Position - Goalkeeper
Current team - Young Africans
Number - 39
2011-2021 - Stade Malien
2021 - Young Africans