"Monday is a bit of an odd day," he starts. "I wait for news of my players. To be honest, their performances take a bit of a back seat as I'm always worried about injuries." Anxious, excited, but above all delighted to be coaching Gabon, former France legend Alain Giresse just wishes the waiting would end so his team can take on Libya in Libreville on 11 October.
Having collected nine points from their five games in Group 5, the Azingo Nationale could be about to take a significant step towards the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Victory over the Libyans would bring them tantalisingly close to the third and final round of action, which in itself would represent one of the national side's finest moments.
"I've made all the calculations in terms of all the groups, and our situation is not necessarily the easiest," Giresse explains, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com. "We know we have to win, but our goal difference could be decisive. To sum up, I'll be asking my players to give their all. If we allow ourselves to dream for a bit, a 4-0 win would still allow us to finish first." Victory by any other margin would still be more than welcome, however, as Giresse continues his ongoing efforts ro raise standards across Gabon.
Best known for forming part of the ‘magic square' with compatriots Jean Tigana, Luis Fernandez and Michel Platini in the 1980s, the erstwhile midfielder took the Gabon helm two years ago, and since then he has focused on teaching an entire nation the basics of football at the highest level. "You always have to remember where you come from and where you are," he says. "There's a sort of impatience here which isn't always easy to manage. The risk is that everyone wants to start from scratch the moment anything goes slightly wrong. When you need time - and Gabon really need a lot of it - it's not easy to make the public understand that."
Those tensions came to a head just before the start of qualifying round two in May, when the Frenchman decided to resign following a fierce reaction from supporters upset that the side had failed to qualify for the CAF African Championship of Nations, a competition reserved for players based at clubs in their own homelands. "My squad contained a lot of very young players," recalls Giresse. "Some of them were actually still youth players (between 15 and 17). In that context, our results made sense. But when I saw the outbreak of violence at the final whistle of our last game, I couldn't accept it. I preferred to leave."
It was only the insistence of his own players and the government that caused him to stay on in the role, in fact. Today, the whole nation is glad he did.
Gabon have failed to qualify for any major tournaments in the last ten years, and they have not written any FIFA World Cup headlines since the qualifiers for Italy 1990. With that in mind, no one should underestimate the scale of what Daniel Cousin and Co could be set to achieve next month. "If I was surprised by our [2-0] victory against Ghana, I also believe we lacked a little luck and could have done even better. We've never been able to field our two star players Cousin and Eric Mouloungi together, for example. Last month, I nearly did but Daniel lost his passport. He'll be back against Libya, but Eric will be suspended."
Despite those difficulties, the Black Panthers have leapt from around 100th spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to 62nd. "Those are just numbers but I like to think I'm doing a good job," says Giresse. The next step in his mission will be to have Gabon officially recognised as one of the 20 strongest teams on the continent by steering them through to the third round of qualifiers on the road to South Africa.
"Before we take on the Libyans, I'm expecting nothing less than what we managed in the away match against them," continues Giresse. "We could have played without a goalkeeper, such was our complete domination. We'll need to be strong to make that domination a reality again. But if we have the good fortune to get through this round, that's when the hard part will begin."