"As long as a team is disciplined, nothing can go wrong," Manuel Amoros, current head coach of the Benin national football team, has been quoted as saying since his appointment in January 2012.
Benin's results so far in African qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ have proven the worth of Amoros's mantra, and it is an approach that defender Arsene Menessou is only too happy to endorse. "As long as we respect his desire for discipline, we will get results," Menessou said in an interview with FIFA.com.
After two matches, Benin lie second in Group H with four points – a tally that Menessou believes should be even greater: "Again, if it hadn't been for the incidents against Rwanda [who converted a late penalty to earn a 1-1 draw in June] we could be on six points," he said.
The Squirrels' strong position has come as a surprise to some, but not to Menessou and his colleagues. "We're continuing to build on what we showed during the qualifying campaign for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations," said the defender, who plays for La Louviere in the Belgian third division.
"We played some great football then. We just lacked that cutting edge and a little bit of luck. The group is unchanged apart from a few youngsters who are bedding in, and we're still reaping the benefits of our gathering back in June, when we stayed together for a month."
Administrative problems prevented Menessou from playing for former club Eupen in 2011/12, a situation that prompted him to drop down the Belgian divisions in search of playing time and renewed confidence. He admits it was a difficult period, and remains grateful for the unwavering faith shown by Amoros and his predecessor, Edme Codjo.
"Luckily I had the national team, which allowed me to keep a taste of high-level football and not just play in friendlies," said the former Real Zaragoza player.
Charge for history
Benin have not qualified for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations since 2010 and have never reached a FIFA World Cup finals. But Menessou, a consistent performer at international level, is cautiously optimistic that his side can continue their march towards a historic place at Brazil 2014, starting with their double-header against Algeria on 26 March and 6 June in Blida and Cotonou respectively.
"Being top of the group [Editor's note: this was the case at the time of the interview] allows us to play with belief, to be mentally strong and to go into these games with confidence," said Menessou, a former member of Le Havre's youth set-up. "But we know what to expect against a team that is hungry for redemption."
Indeed, after disappointing at the recent Cup of Nations in South Africa, Algeria will be keen to get their home fans back on their side when they host Benin. "The crowd will put us under a lot of pressure, but they [Algeria] will also feel it as they need to earn forgiveness. They've got the advantage of having spent time together before and during the Cup of Nations and they're going to want to beat us," said Menessou, adding that he and his team-mates will "need to be even more alert than usual".
Amoros recently took the Benin squad for a week-long training camp in Marseille, where he was able to fine-tune his tactics ahead of the imminent meeting with Les Fennecs. "He has experience of high-level competitions and knows how to prepare for this kind of match," said Menessou. "He's showing us the way and we're following it to the letter."
"Algeria have some great attacking options, but their defence is vulnerable. We mustn't stand and watch them play, because, if we do, we'll face waves of attacks and they'll only make us suffer," he continued.
"We mustn't be cautious and sit back too much, but rather play our own game. It's a big challenge, but we're ready for it."