For almost two years now, the playing fields of Britain have become accustomed to the sight of lanky striker Daniel Cousin making life difficult for defenders. After a mixed season with Rangers in Scotland, the Gabonese forward had his dreams come true last summer when Hull City offered him the chance to experience life in the English Premier League. The Yorkshire outfit currently lie 14th, but at one point they were the talk of the nation, having climbed as high as third with nine games played in their inaugural top-flight campaign.
"We had an excellent start to the season with some big performances against the leading sides in the league," the former Lens player told FIFA.com. "But that obviously took a lot out of us. Now we're undoubtedly suffering the after-effects. Lots of people think we're where we should be, but I still reckon we can finish in the top ten."
Scorer of four goals in 21 matches, Cousin has been taken to heart by fans of the Tigers. As a result, his confidence ought to be soaring as he prepares to resume his role as captain of the Gabonese national team in the third round of African Zone qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
"When you're a professional footballer, you can't help but dream about the World Cup," he added. "As our supporters keep telling us, if Togo could do it in 2006, then so can we. That said, we need to be realistic. And what's realistic for us is qualifying for Angola 2010. The country has been waiting so long to qualify for an Africa Cup of Nations tournament that we really owe it to our fans to do it."
If those notes of caution sound unambitious, look again at the teams the Panthers must face in Group A. With Morocco having reached four FIFA World Cups, Cameroon holding the continental appearances record after five participations and Germany 2006 qualifiers Togo completing the picture, the task is daunting for Alain Giresse and his men. Exactly how daunting will become clearer after their first taste of action in Casablanca on 28 March. "That match will be an excellent test to see if we're good enough," said Cousin.
Although he has yet to contest a qualifier due to a combination of fitness and administrative issues, the one-time Le Mans marksman remains an important figure for Gabon. A star in his homeland, along with Eric Mouloungui, Stephane N'Guema and Fabrice Do Marcolino, Cousin is eager to be a good captain too.
"It's a role I don't know very well and perhaps it doesn't quite fit with my personality," he commented. "I'm someone who doesn't talk very much, so I let my team-mates come to me. It's also not easy to approach players who, for the most part, I never get to see play. But, for the good of the team, I give advice with pleasure."
A leader on the pitch for his national side and symbol for the entire nation abroad, the 32-year-old recognises his good fortune. "It's frustrating to see so much talent wasted in a national championship, which is very weak," he explained.
"It's pleasing to see the players commit themselves with so much hunger for the national team. They know that the only way to be discovered and recruited is by participating in the big international competitions. It's for them that we have to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. After that, we'll see if we can do even better." Spoken like a true skipper.