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Adversity breeds success in Guinea

posted by: December 8th, 2014


Guinea celebrate their win over Uganda

Few would disagree that the Guinean national team had to overcome more than its fair share of obstacles in recent times. Most glaringly, the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus forced the Syli Nationale to play their home games of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers at a neutral venue.

But when the 16 best African teams gather early next year in Equatorial Guinea to contest the finals of the showpiece event of African football, Guinea will be amongst them, having been drawn into Group D along with the west African trio of Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Cameroon. The achievement of qualifying is not the only good news for their football fans as the side has climbed in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and the team is currently ranked 38th in the world – a position they last obtained in January 2009.

Guinea’s highest-ever standing was in August 2006, when they were ranked 22nd in the world. Since then the football fortunes in the country have slumped and in January of this year they were ranked 61st globally. For coach Michel Dussuyer, the recent improvement – the team climbed 17 places from 55th in October to 38th – is the result of a planned strategy. “Since the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012, we had to rebuild the team. This occurred for many different reasons. Some players retired, others had long-term injuries, others lacked game time. As a result, we now have a much younger team than three years ago, but it helped us create a new momentum for the Syli Nationale.”

In October of this year, Guinea’s chances of qualifying for the AFCON finals seemed remote. The team was at the bottom of Group E and needed to win their two remaining matches against Togo and Uganda. The Togolese were the first to feel how seriously the Guineans were of reaching the finals as Seydouba Soumah scored a hat-trick and the visitors won 4-1 in the Togolese capital of Lome. The final group game against Uganda, which was played in Morocco, was a winner-take-all affair, as both sides would be guaranteed a place at the finals with a victory. The Cranes though had a slight advantage as they had beaten Guinea at home in Kampala and thus would have qualified with a draw. Again it was Soumah who scored one of the goals as Guinea secured the all-important 2-0 victory.

Dussuyer believes qualifying for the finals is particularly important given the difficult situation the country finds itself in due to the Ebola epidemic. “Making it to the finals can give some joy to Guineans. We always had in the back of our minds to give some joy to the people of Guinea. The epidemic struck the country hard. People had terrible times, we knew the national team could warm their hearts. I had lots of messages of support after we qualified. It was a real blast of joy in the country, especially because we were in a difficult situation before the last two games.”

An eye to the future
The French coach, who is in his third stint with the national team, is confident that the improvements made to football in the country are sustainable. “Football has changed for the better during the last two or three years. There were new investments in clubs and the teams signed foreign players, who brought extra quality to the League. So standards have been rising, and young Guinean players found a new motivation and could get better working conditions and increased wages. This effort now has to be confirmed on the long term.”

Dussuyer, who will be coaching a team for the fourth time at the Cup of Nations finals, having twice before been there with Guinea and 2010 with Benin, says that they want to go further than at their last appearance in 2012. “Our first goal is to reach the quarter-finals. It is possible, provided we remain very humble and focused. I want my team to be true to our identity and our principles, which are to produce good football, to play our game and not to “adapt” to our opponents. We need to channel the desire and the generosity of the squad.”

Dussuyer believes that their experience in overcoming all the obstacles to qualify for the finals will come in good stead in Equatorial Guinea. “We even had to play our home matches at a neutral venue. But we knew this from the start and realised that it would be more difficult to qualify. But I think it helped me bond the team together. In a certain way, we turned adversity into strength and we want to use this in Equatorial Guinea.