“Players don’t improve as if by magic. You need good infrastructure and quality training,” Mauritania coach Corentin Martins told FIFA.com. In the job since 2014, the French tactician is giving his support to the country’s major football transformation. “There was only one league when I came here, but now there are several divisions, youth categories and a women’s league. And the national team are training in the best possible conditions.”
He added: “Ahmed Yahya, the president of the national FA, is the man responsible for making all these changes. His first step was to appoint Valencia’s former training academy boss Luis Forte as the national technical director. He felt we complemented each other perfectly, and not just because I used to play in Spain with La Coruna, but because we speak the same football language. And he was right: we work very well together.”
Two years prior to the Frenchman’s arrival, Les Mourabitounes lay 206th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the lowest position in their history. Since last year, however, they have been hovering around the 100 mark and climbed two places in November. And there is even more for Mauritania fans to look forward to, with the national team having qualified for the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, the first time that it will grace the continental finals. “It was an amazing, magical moment and a real emotional high for the supporters and the players,” said Martins in reference to the 2-1 home win against Botswana on 18 November, a result that secured Mauritania’s place at next year’s tournament.
Charting a new direction
“I could sense the players were very tense before kick-off,” continued Martins. “The stakes were high because we knew a win would take us through and I did everything I could to ensure they didn’t freeze. I told them to keep it simple, stick together and, above all, not to let the opposition score. So then we went and conceded after only four minutes (laughs)! The players responded well, though. Ismael Diakite equalised on 20 minutes and then scored the winner six minutes from time. It was all very emotional and a dream scenario, but I was also very pleased at how the match went. They showed a lot of maturity.”
Mauritania stand atop their qualification group with 12 points from five games (four wins and a defeat) and face Burkina Faso in their last match on 22 March 2019. Reflecting on the progress his side has made over the last four years, Martins said: “When I came into the job, I focused on winning above all else. We had to win matches to gain confidence and get some momentum. We know the players very well now. They know what I expect of them when it comes to their work and what they do on and off the pitch. You need that to get results.”
In addition to their collective achievements, his charges are also reaping rewards on the career front: “When I started out, we had 17 players based here and seven abroad. Now it’s the other way round, which shows that foreign clubs are interested in Mauritanian players.”
As far as Martins is concerned, there is no question of Mauritania going to next year’s Africa Cup of Nations just to make up numbers. “If we can get through the group phase, it will be a successful tournament for us,” said the French coach, who is hoping his side can continue their climb by putting in a good performance at the African finals. So, how far can they go? “Players need objectives to keep progressing and the World Cup could be one, even if it seems a bit out of reach right now. You never know, though. It’s important to have dreams.”