Few could forget the opening match of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, in which debutants Senegal sprung one of the biggest surprises in the history of the tournament by beating defending champions France. The Lions of Teranga proved their victory was no fluke and continued their run all the way to the quarter-finals, falling just short of a place in the last four. Their success owed much to the efforts of coach Bruno Metsu, whose reputation soared as a result.
Following his African adventure, the Frenchman took over at Emirati side Al Ain, leading them to AFC Champions League glory. He also impressed as a national team coach, guiding United Arab Emirates to the Gulf Cup of Nations title and taking Qatar to the latter stages of the AFC Asian Cup.
FIFA.com caught up with Metsu to discuss his impressive coaching career, which Asian team will reach Brazil 2014, France's chances at UEFA EURO 2012 and the present Barcelona side.
FIFA.com: Bruno, you came to the world’s attention as Senegal coach at Korea/Japan 2002. Could you tell us about that experience?
Bruno Metsu: I had been coaching for more than a decade before that tournament, but it really was an exceptional experience and one that made me known around the world. I learned a lot, both on a personal and professional level. I was determined to build and strengthen the team. We became a close-knit family, with every member wanting to win. Everyone knew the importance of togetherness and, once we’d secured our place at the World Cup, we vowed to represent Africa in the best possible way in what would be Senegal’s first appearance at the finals.
How did you achieve that, and what do you think prevented Senegal from going even further at that tournament?
Nobody would have put a penny on us. We were in a very tough group that included France, Uruguay and Denmark. But at a World Cup, lots of factors come into play. Being among those big teams meant there was no pressure on us. It improved our fighting spirit and we weren’t scared of anyone. We were determined to upset the odds. That mentality manifested itself on the pitch. After our opening victory against the defending champions France, the lads felt ten feet tall. We surprised everyone and reached the knockout stage. We continued our run against Sweden, driven by our thirst for victory. Ahead of our quarter-final against Turkey, the press started to talk about us reaching the semis, which perhaps indirectly affected our determination. Still, the players rose to the occasion and I was satisfied with their performance. Games are won on small details, which is something we neglected. We went out of the competition and let a historic opportunity slip away. Nevertheless, our performance at the tournament was very positive.
You then went to the United Arab Emirates and took charge of Al Ain. How did you handle the switch from leading a national side at a FIFA World Cup to a developing club?
There is a difference between the role of a national team coach and that of a club coach. I wanted to go back to having a daily work routine, and I felt that Al Ain offered the right environment. I was not disappointed and I found I had everything I needed to build a team. I brought my experience to the club and worked on the small details that make all the difference. The efforts of the whole team were rewarded when they won the first edition of the Asian Champions League in its new format.
After your experience with Al Gharafa, you went on to coach United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Could you tell us more about this phase of your career?
I needed a new adventure after Al Ain, so I went to Qatar and coach Al Gharafa. I won two major titles with the club. After that, the desire to return to international management began to tempt me. I received an offer from the UAE and, as I knew the country, had no hesitation in accepting the role. We did a good job, winning the Gulf Cup along the way to end a 33-year wait for the local fans. We gave everything, the players worked extremely hard, and I was very pleased to achieve such good results. After the UAE experience, Qatar contacted me about taking charge of the national team for the 2011 Asian Cup, which they were hosting. It was a completely different experience. We didn’t have enough time to prepare the players and move the team forward. Despite everything, we were able to satisfy our passionate fans, bounce back from our opening defeat by Uzbekistan and reach the second round. We were knocked out of the competition by Japan, the reigning champions. We played well against them but were unlucky to lose [3-2] in the final minute. I was satisfied with my team’s overall performance, even though we could have gone further. I decided to return to Al Gharafa this season, where we’re currently working to regain the championship title and looking to go as far as possible in the Asian Champions League.
As someone who knows Asian football inside-out, what are your predictions for the final round of FIFA World Cup qualifying? Which teams can you see making it to Brazil 2014?
Asian football has come on leaps and bounds. My favourites are Australia and Japan, who have many European-based players and a superior playing style to the other teams. That said, they will have to fight hard to reach the finals. It hasn’t been easy for them in the initial qualifying rounds against modest opponents, and the final phase will be even tougher. We mustn’t forget the more experienced sides like Korea Republic, who haven’t yet qualified for the final round, and Iran and Saudi Arabia, who both have talented individuals. Other teams, such as Iraq, Jordan and Uzbekistan, are also making progress and are capable of causing an upset. These qualifying matches will be exciting, but it won’t be easy to pick the winners.
Let’s talk about France now. How do you rate Les Bleus’ chances at the UEFA EURO 2012?
The French national team had a difficult time at the last World Cup. They were under considerable pressure and were shouldering a great deal of expectation, and they couldn’t find the winning formula. Our individual levels have dropped and we no longer have a great, charismatic player to hold the group together, like Platini in the 1980s or Zidane in the decade just gone. We saw just how important [Zidane] was at Germany 2006, helping Les Bleus reach the Final after their bitter failure in 2002. We no longer have players of that calibre in the national team. There are clearly talented individuals in there, like Karim Benzema, but they lack that one outstanding player. It’s for this reason that I doubt the team’s ability to get beyond the first round of the EURO. If they want to succeed, they’ll need to work really hard over the next few months and start afresh to restore France’s reputation.
What do you think of Barcelona and their achievements?
(Smiles) They’re the best team around at the moment. All of their players work in harmony with one another; they play a different kind of football. You get the feeling that they really enjoy themselves on the pitch, inside their tactical system. They’ve managed to dazzle crowds and win titles at the same time. Lionel Messi is an extraordinary player; he does amazing things and allows the team to be decisive at any given moment. If Barcelona maintain their current level of performance, I don’t think anyone will be able to stop them, and they’ll remain at the top for quite some time.