Going into their final CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2017 qualifier against Mozambique in September, Mauritius have already been eliminated from the competition. But that does not mean the players will take it easy. Far from it.
“For us the last game is very important," Mauritius national coach Joe Tshupula told FIFA.com recently. "It is very important that we try to win this game. If we manage that, it would be the first time that Mauritius finished second in their qualifying group and it would auger well for the future.”
Although finishing second would not be the best-ever result that Club M had achieved – they qualified for the finals in 1974, but only needed to beat Lesotho and Tanzania en route – it would be a further indication that football on the island state is on the up. A look at the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking merely confirms that. In the latest rankings from June, Mauritius sit at 142nd in the world, their highest position since May 2007, when they were ranked in the same spot. Tshupula, who has also coached in Belgium as well as in Congo DR, believes that the rise in Mauritian football is closely associated with the increased interest football officials in the country showed towards seeing the team progress.
“They have introduced a professional league and are working hard for the future," Tshupula said, adding that it had not been an easy undertaking. "I am also looking at players outside the country, as well as within. The team has responded well and has started to work hard to arrive at this objective. The team is very young and that means you have to have a lot of patience.”
Mauritius' rise through the rankings has not been as rapid as others, but it has been consistent. In December, the team was ranked 174th. In the following months, they climbed to 172nd, and then 154th and now up to 142nd – consistently climbing or remaining, but never falling back.
They beat Rwanda in an AFCON qualifier, but they lost the return leg in Kigali. They were beaten just 2-0 at home by African powerhouse Ghana in another AFCON qualifier before turning their attention to the regional COSAFA Cup. In the tournament hosted by Namibia, Club M lost to Lesotho and Malawi, before securing a good 2-0 win against 2006 FIFA World Cup™ finalists Angola.
Although the team has secured more success in the regional competition, Tshupula is daring to dream big. “If we want to progress, it is very important that we have a big objective," he said. "Our first goal is to reach the Africa Cup of Nations finals. It is very important to work hard to reach the continental competition, very important for the future of football in our country.
“At the moment, it is very difficult task because we have a young team, but in football everything is possible. We will work hard to do as well as we can. For the future of football in Mauritius, it is very important to participate in big competitions in Africa. As to the World Cup, I think that might be a step too high for us. Only five African teams go to the World Cup. Of course we are putting in the effort, but we have to be realistic.”
Another aspect that the coach is looking after is the importance of youth football and development, and the country will be hosting the COSAFA U-17 tournament. “I hope in future to organize a competition for the U-23, because it is very important for the future of football in this country," Tshupula said. "In 2019 we will also host the Indian Ocean Games, so there are many things to look forward to.”
Among clubs that Tshupula has previously coached are Mauritian top-flight teams Cercle de Joachim and AS Riviere du Rempart, but he's enjoying the challenge of planning for the long term. “In the national team it is very important to go and look for good players to make a good team," he explained. "The short-term objective of coaching club or country is different.
"For a national coach it is very important to stay concentrated and to look in many places for players to strengthen the team. This would be a good solution for football in Mauritius and this way the footballing future in Mauritius is bright.”