Mauritania might not have qualified for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals in Ghana this January but their admirable performances in the preliminary rounds handed the arid Saharan nation a major lift.

The country's national team, Les Mourabitounes, finished second in the qualifying group behind holders Egypt and kept up an unbeaten home record in the competition. It is the best finish for the country in the Nations Cup qualifiers to date and sees them progress steadily up the FIFA/Coca-Cola world ranking.

A 2-1 home win over Burundi in their final qualifier in October ensured a rise of 16 places for Mauritania, up to 124th in the global standings. It is still a ways off their all-time high of 85th, achieved almost 12 years ago, but reflects some significant improvements of late.

The Burindi win came despite the appointment of a new coach. Birama Gueye took over from the well-traveled Algerian Ali Fergani in charge of Les Mourabitounes and made a winning start in his new assignment. He now turns his focus to regional competition.

Mauritania will participate in the upcoming Amilcar Cabral Cup, a tournament for teams in the far west of Africa which is being hosted by Guinea Bissau. Mauritania will play in the opening game against the host nation on 30 November.

Gueye is unlikely to be able to call upon all his resources for the competition as many of the country's growing contingent of foreign-based players will be unavailable due to club commitments.

French roots
The country continues to use the French-born footballers, first brought to the team by coach Noel Tosi when he was in charge at the start of the 2006 FIFA World Cup preliminaries.

The standout pairing of Yohann Langlet and Pascal Gourville were handed Mauritanian nationality last year. Langlet has gone onto to become a frequent scorer for the national team and signed recently with Al Ittihad of Libya, helping them to reach the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League.

Moises Kande plays at AEL in Cyprus while Seydou Mbodji and Abdelaziz Kamara are based in France. The 23-year-old Kamara was born in St. Denis of Mauritanian parents and has already played top flight French football with St. Etienne before moving to Chateauroux. The Sidibe brothers, Ahmed and Bilal, also compete in the lower leagues in France. Youthful Dominque da Silva is on the books of Tunisia's CS Sfaxien.

Mauritania's focus now turns to the South Africa 2010 qualifiers and the draw for the preliminaries in Durban on 25 November.

The side will be placed in the group phase, where they will no longer be regarded as whipping boys by their opponents. Indeed, Les Mourabitounes now have a well-founded reputation for being tricky and difficult to overcome.

They have only previously competed in eight FIFA World Cup qualifying matches and won only one of those. Their first participation was for the 1978 finals in Argentina.