Benin embark on new direction
© AFP

Benin have announced sweeping changes to the make-up of their national team in the wake of their first round elimination at the recent CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals in Angola and have received an immediate boost with a jump in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.

They have moved up to 65th in the latest edition, two places higher than their position in February and edging ever closer to their highest ever position attained just a few months ago. The Ecureuils reached 59th in November 2009, confirmation of their steady progress in recent years.

It was only in July 2007 that the small west African state broke through into the top 100 of the Ranking and have they continued a steady climb since. Qualification for the Cup of Nations finals, for only the third time, was symbolic of that progress and their harsh reaction to their early elimination reflects the new levels the Beninoise believe they are capable of reaching.

Benin were unlucky not to beat Mozambique in their opening group game in Benguela, squandering a two goal lead before drawing the match. They then lost to neighbours Nigeria by a single goal in a game in which they created several opportunities to claim all three points, Their elimination from the tournament was confirmed when they were beaten by eventual winners Egypt in their final group outing. It cost Michel Dussuyer his job as coach and led to the dramatic announcement of the dissolution of the national team, news of a drastic step creating headlines across the footballing world.

A new squad of young and, so far, locally-based players, many of whom are barely out of their teens, has already been unveiled as the new generation of Ecureuils. They were even presented to the Benin public at a recent press conference in Cotonou. Benin FA president Anjorin Moucharafou spoke at the function of the need to have players willing to defend the national colours. “The national team is not the property of certain players,” he said.

French-born coach Michel Sorin has taken over as national coach on a temporary basis and already played with his home-based side in the first stages of the African Nations Championship, the tournament hosted by the Confederation of African Football for players who compete in their local leagues. Benin lost 2-0 in the first leg of their tie at Niger at the start of March but still have hopes of overturning the deficit when they host the return match before the end of the month.

Sorin, who previously worked as coach of Cotonou club Requins Atlantique FC, was a player at Laval, Rennes and Brest during his career in the French league. But it has been made clear by the Benin federation that they are looking for a new long-term coach and have already held several interviews with perspective candidates.