Seychelles making historic waves
© AFP

The archipelago nation of Seychelles climbed from the lower reaches of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to 175th in the world in August after winning their first-ever full international tournament. After having hit the lowest ranking in their history, 199th in July, the Pirates proved that their ship is indeed rising with an impressive championship as hosts of the 2011 Indian Ocean Island Games.

The 24-point jump up the rankings for the Seychellois is the cherry on top after mid-August’s IOIG in which they went undefeated playing in their first competitive matches in almost two years. Seychelles improved quickly following a nervy scoreless draw with Comoros to open the event, beating Mauritius and Maldives to win their opening group. The come-from-behind extra time victory in the semi-final over Reunion - holders and the most successful side in the tournament’s past - was dramatic, but the penalty kick triumph over Mauritius in the final at the Stade Linite in the capital city of Victoria was historic.

With under 100,000 people, Seychelles has the smallest population of any African state, so July’s ranking as the lowest team in CAF was not a shock. But the climb up to 45th on the continent following the cathartic 1-1 final victory marked both the culmination of work being done by the country’s national coach, Ralph Jean-Louis, and the successful arrival of respected England-born and -based midfielder Kevin Betsy.

A coach finds a new key
Jean-Louis had previously made an impact on the club game in Seychelles by building a domestic juggernaut at St. Michel, and the former international midfielder has brought a new level of order to the national team since taking over the job last year. Known as ‘Tiapout’, the coach was part of two of Seychelles' most successful previous teams, winning bronze medals at the IOIG in 1990 and 1998. Having only become a member of FIFA and CAF in 1986, Seychelles have generally punched above their weight, and they recorded what is regarded as their biggest result when they beat Zimbabwe in the 2004 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

They hit their high water mark in the FIFA rankings in 2006 at 129th after recording impressive regional wins over Mauritius, Tanzania and Namibia. After failing to enter into the preliminaries for the 2012 Cup of Nations, Seychelles have been drawn against Kenya in the first round of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Although they have never won a World Cup qualifier in ten tries, Jean-Louis will be anxious to inspire his side past the improving Harambee Stars over two legs, which would lead them into Group F of CAF qualifying. In the run-up to South Africa 2010, they did not fair well in their first group stage experience, failing to earn a single point from six matches, so any success would be a step up.

It will re-establish our confidence.
Seychelles coach Ralph Jean-Louis after his team’s first-ever Indian Ocean Island Games championship



Jean-Louis will have a new arrow in his quiver in the form of 33-year-old Betsy, who it is hoped will lead the way much as he did at the IOIG, which marked his first venture with the Seychelles. Betsy’s father Lewis was captain of the team that finished a best-ever second at that event in 1979, and the suburban London native finally agreed to represent the island nation after being courted for years. An experienced journeyman who has spent time at Fulham and Barnsley amongst others and is currently in his second stint at Wycombe, Betsy is a key professional figure on a team made up otherwise of domestic-based players.

Watched in the stands by his parents, Betsy made the difference in the knockout rounds, setting up the thrilling 118th-minute winner against Reunion in the last four and scoring the only goal for the hosts in the final with his head. He also converted a penalty in the decisive shootout, although the hero turned out to be substitute goalkeeper Vincent Euphrasie, who came on for the injured starter just a half hour into the match and stopped two Mauritian kicks.

Betsy was quick to praise the “fantastic job” done by Jean-Louis, and the coach returned the favour, saying that “[Betsy] gives us the experience we're looking for.” One of those looking to benefit from Betsy’s experience will be 22-year-old midfielder Karl Hall, who is part of a large group of St. Michel players that make up the side - including captain Don Anacoura. “It will re-establish our confidence,” said Jean-Louis after winning the IOIG. And surely climbing up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings will do nothing to hurt this growing belief in the future of Seychelles.