When a team faces a rival over 100 places lower than them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the outcome is typically a foregone conclusion. So when Chad (ranked 175th in October) took on Egypt (51st) in a 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier in mid-November, the Pharaohs might have been excused thinking the three points were theirs to take.
But someone forgot to tell Les Sao, and at the end of 90 minutes the unfancied team from central Africa had created one of the bigger upsets in African World Cup history by beating the mighty North Africans 1-0, with Ezechiel Ndouasel scoring the only goal of the game midway through the second half. The shocking result, however, does not stand out as an anomaly, instead looking more like another step for Chad on their upward journey up the rankings, where they have climbed to 114th.
Les Sao had a disappointing start into their 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign, losing 2-0 in Nigeria and slumping to a 5-1 defeat at home against Egypt. But it was then that things took a turn for the better, as coach Mahamat Oumar Yaya, who was in charge of the side on an interim basis, took the team to an unexpected victory against Sierra Leone in the first round of the World Cup qualifiers. Les Sao won 1-0 at home and even though they were beaten 2-1 in the return leg, they advanced to the second round of the qualifiers on away goals.
At that time, it was inaccurately reported in the media that Cameroon's FIFA World Cup™ legend Rigobert Song had replaced Yaya, but even though the former Indomitable Lions star confirmed to FIFA.com that he was in discussions with Chad officials, he said that nothing was ever finalised. Yaya thus led the team for their next matches as well and again he achieved considerable success as they managed to beat Gabon 1-0 in the African Nations Championship qualifiers. Although they were knocked out 2-1 on aggregate, it was another step forward.
Keeping an eye on the rankings
One of the players involved in Chad's climb up the rankings is Marius Mbaiam. The midfielder, who plays his club football in the third tier of French football for Belfort, is one of the more experienced players in the side, having appeared in 11 World Cup qualifiers over three campaigns. Mbaiam told FIFA.com believes there is a simple explanation for the upsurge in the teams' fortunes. “A lot of work has been done recently. We feel a real improvement, especially in the results. The coaches have to get some of the credit, of course, but the talent was already there.”
Talent notwithstanding Chad have never qualified for a CAF Africa Cup of Nations, and the task seems too tough on the road to Gabon in 2017 with Egypt and Nigeria in their group. However the 28-year-old Mbaiam believes the team still has a chance. “We must keep on the way we have and remain focused. We have two important games to play against Tanzania next March, and we will need to take the most points we can.”
He says the players are well aware of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and look to them for inspiration and proof of advancement. “[The rankings] are important for us. They are taken as a boost to believe in ourselves. I think we could even rank better in the next months. This might only be a start.”
Unlike many other African teams, Chad does not have a whole array of players plying their trade in some of the stronger leagues throughout Europe. Casimir Ninga, is arguably the best-known, having achieved some success this year with Montpellier, having scored six Ligue 1 goals in ten matches. The majority of other players are contracted to teams in Chad or lower-league clubs in France. Mbaiam does not think that is necessarily a disadvantage. “If you take a look at many other teams, it is quite the same. Our real handicap is that we do not often play friendlies to correct our mistakes, and also improve our strongest points. It is true that not a lot of us Chad national team players play in big Leagues, but I am going to tell you something: Chadians are warriors!”