Mauritania ended 2012 on the flattest of notes, tumbling down the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to 206th place, the north African nation’s worst position since 1993. After a four-year period in which Les Mourabitones played a mere four matches, sitting out the qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and playing no games at all in 2009 or 2011, they had just three Ranking points to their name, with only Bhutan, San Marino and Turks and Caicos Islands sitting below them.

Anxious to halt the slide, the Mauritanian FA and its chairman Ahmed Ould Abderrahmane, who took on the job in 2011, came up with a plan designed to push the national side back up to its highest ever ranking of 85th, a benchmark achieved in 1995. The plan involved playing more matches, with the FA earmarking the dates set aside for international games on the FIFA calendar, setting up six games in 2013 and nine the following year, three of which ended in victories. Before too long, Mauritania had climbed back up to 133rd in the global standings.

Further progress has come this year thanks to back-to-back friendly wins over Sierra Leone, with the Africans this month reaching 113th, their highest slot since 2008. The Mauritanians would have been even better placed had Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar not scored a last-minute goal to deprive them a point in a 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in June.

Speaking to FIFA.com, Mauritania’s director of football Cheikhani Ould Maouloud discussed the recent upturn in his side’s fortunes: “It’s come about thanks to the plan put in place by the FA and the chairman. The results are starting to come, which proves that we’re on the right track. The strategy is to play international matches on the days allocated by FIFA and we’re sticking to it. We’ve achieved our best ranking since 2008 and our aim now is to make it into the top 100.”

The rise in the world ranking is great news and it’s all down to the good results we got in June.

Corentin Martins, Mauritania manager.

Playing a key part in that progress has been the side’s new French coach Corentin Martins. Appointed in October 2014, the former Auxerre player has presided over four friendlies to date and that official meeting with Cameroon, during which time he has blended a clutch of experienced players based in France, Algeria and Morocco with a number of promising youngsters.

Commenting on the significant strides his charges are making, he told FIFA.com: “The rise in the world ranking is great news and it’s all down to the good results we got in June. The main objective now is to kick on year after year.”

The Gallic touch
Martins and Mauritania’s hopes of breaking into the 100 club hinge on their ability to make an impact in the Africa Zone qualifiers for Russia 2018, in which South Sudan will provide their first-round opposition in October.

Despite the 83 places that separate the two teams, the 46-year-old Frenchman is wary of underestimating the South Sudanese: “We’ll need to take them seriously and be focused on the job. The tie comes down to just two matches, and our positions in the Ranking don’t count for anything,” he continued. “When it comes to games like these, the teams further down can beat sides above them.”

The upcoming tie represent Mauritania’s first hurdle on the road to Russia 2018 and another opportunity for them to continue their Ranking ascent.