Quarter-finalists at the previous two CAF African Cup of Nations tournaments, Guinea were bitterly disappointed to finish bottom of their qualification group for the 2010 event in Angola, a failure that also saw them miss out on a berth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Much has changed for the Syli National since then, however, as they showed by pipping the mighty Nigeria to a place at the 2012 continental showpiece, to be held in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next January and February, proof that the ambitious west Africans are back in business.
One man who has helped contribute to their revival is left-back Ibrahima Diallo, who spoke to FIFA.com about coach Michel Dussuyer’s role in getting them back on track and the future goals that lie ahead of them.
“The national team has gone through a lot of changes and had to lay down new foundations,” explained Diallo, who plays his club football for Waasland-Beveren in Belgium. "You could see all that in the qualifiers for the African Cup of Nations."
The right blend
“The coach was in charge of the team before and that’s been a big advantage,” continued the full-back, an ever-present since Frenchman Dussuyer returned to a post he held previously between 2002 and 2004. “He’s put together a balanced team made up of veterans, players like me who’ve been around for nearly three years now, and a handful of youngsters. Everyone’s pitching in and learning things. We’ve got a close-knit team and we all want to do well.”
Judging by their recent friendly results, a 1-1 draw with Burkina Faso and a thumping 4-1 defeat to Senegal a fortnight ago, the Syli National have some fine-tuning to do ahead of next year’s continental finals, as the former Charleroi man admitted: “We’ve still got plenty of room for improvement. We were all on a high after knocking out Nigeria but we need to stay cool and stick to our principles.”
Pitched against big guns Ghana, surprise finalists Botswana and the unpredictable Mali, Diallo and Co will need to be on form when they take the stage at Gabon and Equatorial Guinea 2012.
“Qualification was just one step and the hardest part is still ahead of us,” he continued. “We’re hungry and full of ambition and I’m sure we’re going to give the best possible account of ourselves. At the very least we’ll be able to look ourselves in the mirror if the worst comes to the worst and we lose all three of our games to stronger opposition. We’ve got what it takes to pull together, and if we stay strong and solid, we should be able to do anything.”
Getting it right
“We’ve got no margin for error,” added Diallo, weighing up the challenges that lie ahead for the Syli National in 2012 when they take on Africa’s best in the new year and then begin their bid to reach Brazil 2014. “Botswana, Ghana and Mali are all good teams, and it’s a stiff test for us ahead of the big qualifying games in June. But whatever happens in the African Cup of Nations, I don’t think it will knock us off our stride for the World Cup qualifiers.”
That is even more unlikely with the shrewd Dussuyer as coach, a hard taskmaster in Diallo’s eyes: “He likes to maintain the highest standards, on and off the pitch.”
As the Belgium-based defender confirmed, however, the message has got through to the players: “In a season like this it’s essential to take breaks and recuperate. We’re all professionals and everyone knows what they have to do to get in shape for June. I’ve got no doubt about that whatsoever.”
Doubt is one thing the National Syli have banished in the last couple of years, along with memories of a troubled recent past. For now at least, Guinea are looking only to the future.