Nouzaret sparks Guinean revival
© AFP

Qualification for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2008 has helped Guinea head back in the direction of the record FIFA Coca-Cola World Ranking they enjoyed at the start of the year.

A 4-0 defeat of Cape Verde Islands, in which all the goals arrived in the first half, was the catalyst for their recent climb of 12 places to 30th position on the FIFA Coca/Cola World Ranking. That is just eight places off Guinea's all-time high of 22nd, where they proudly sat at the start of this year.

They did, however, tumble down the chart just one month later, dropping a dramatic 40 places when the points from their quarter-final place at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Egypt 2006 fell away.

Thereafter, the Syli Nationale have been slowly working their way back up the ladder. After their opening two Ghana 2008 qualifiers, Guinea had picked up just a single point and fired coach Patrice Neveu as they starred at the stark possibility of missing out on qualification.

But in his place came the veteran French coach Robert Nouzaret, who managed to turn around their fortunes and secure their passage to the continental finals courtesy of wins over Gambia and Algeria in the qualifiers. In the end, Guinea picked themselves up off the basement of the standings and finished top of their pool, three points clear of the second-placed Algerians.

The Guinea side revolves around the axis of imposing defender Dianbobo Balde, the finishing ability of Fode Mansare and, most importantly, the crafty midfield skills of captain Pascal Feindouno, arguably the finest player to ever come out of the west African country. The Saint Etienne ace excelled as his team reached the quarter-finals at Egypt 2006, and he was the motivating force in their comeback in the 2008 qualifiers.

Aside from Feindouno, Nouzaret has set about uncovering fresh talent in recent months, using friendlies against Tunisia and Senegal to try out new combinations. Among the newcomers is French-born Kevin Constant of Toulouse, Finnish-based Mohamed Fofana and Norman Sylla, who plays his club football in Belgium.

Guinea remain a side of persistent potential. Nouzaret's mission is to try and stabilise them among the continent's elite. The CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals will provide the tactician with this opportunity, which seems a possibility given the presence of players like Ismael Bangoura, Morlaye Cisse and Ibrahima Camara, who have all displayed the hallmarks of future African stars.

Guinea's halcyon days are now more than three decades old, when they were runners-up at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 1976 and when their top club side Hafia won the old-style African Champions Cup. With their recent emergence of playing talent, there is every reason to believe that Syli Nationale can reach those heights once again.