The phrase 'waiting forever' is often used, but for Seychelles football fans it is an unfortunate reality, with the nation yet to claim a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier victory.
The Indian Ocean island-state first entered World Cup qualification in 2002 and managed to draw their opening game against Namibia 1-1, but were knocked out after losing the return leg in Windhoek 3-0. Since then, the Pirates have played a further 10 matches, drawing one and losing the other nine. In those dozen contests, they have scored six times and conceded 33.
The team's record in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations is hardly better and the only shining light has been the country's performance in the Indian Ocean Island Games, which they managed to win on home soil in 2011 after beating Mauritius on penalties in the final. To date, it remains the country's biggest footballing success.
When the draw for the preliminary round for Russia 2018 pitted the Seychelles against Burundi officials turned towards the coach who had given them the gold medal in 2011. And so St. Michel coach Ralph Jean-Louis was tasked with taking over the national side for his second stint in charge. After the relative success in the first go-round, Jean-Louis is aware that expectations are high for this second stint. “It puts pressure on us, but I am a hard worker. What people expect are good results, and I am going to try and give them good results as much as I can. But if it does not come, I will take all the responsibility that comes with that.”
The former international says that a good result will be to jump the first hurdle on 7 October at the People's Stadium in Roche Caiman and record a win at home against Burundi. “Never have we passed the first round or even the preliminary round. [Beating Burundi] is my firm objective and then we can try to pass this first round.
“Our fans deserve a win. They have been waiting for the national team to win a match, and we want to show that we are able to do that. But since the Island Games we have not done well, so my biggest priority is to try and win the match against Burundi at home, and then I think we can do something in the two matches.”
But it is not only for the World Cup qualifiers that the coach has to call up a squad as the team will be playing a trio of contests within a two-week period. “We have a good squad, but it will all depend on the availability on the day of the match. At the moment the World Cup qualifier is the biggest objective because in the qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations we have already lost against Algeria and drawn against Ethiopia. So it is going to be difficult to qualify. But for the World Cup, it is a new competition, and I have called a group of new players.”
The overwhelming majority of players Jean-Louis has at his disposal ply their trade in the Seychelles domestic league – many at St. Michel, the club he will continue coaching until the beginning of next year. “Having mainly locally-based players is both a disadvantage, as well as a big advantage for us. It is easy for me to regroup the players and if the players were scattered, we would only have them seven days before the competition, while now I can have the players every Monday and have a short training session.”
The 46-year-old says his team will play their own style of play. “In the Seychelles we have a different kind of game compared to the African continent. We are unique that in our football, the pace is a bit slow, but there is a good tactical understanding. My game plan will depend on the players I have on the day. But basically all teams at home want to go offensive because you have the support of the fans and everyone is behind you."
Seychelles fans will, of course, be hoping for an offensive team, but more importantly, they will be hoping for a win to finally bring the long wait to an end.