- Mauritania ranked 81st in world after climbing 23 places in a month
- Best previous ranking was 85th, achieved in 1995
- Mauritania beat Botswana in opening Africa Cup of Nations qualifier
Mauritania have made a dizzying leap up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, climbing all the way to 81st spot in July. The African side rose no fewer than 23 places in the space of a month, surging up from 104th to sail clear of the likes of Norway, Zambia and Canada.
That sudden spurt was as historic as it was dramatic, with Mauritania not just re-entering the top 100 but now enjoying their highest ever position in the table. Boasting a previous best of 85th in 1995, the side now ranked as the 16th strongest team in Africa have been rewarded for plenty of hard work.
"It's the best ranking position in Mauritania's history," the national side's French coach Corentin Martins told FIFA.com. "What's made it possible is the huge amount of work put in by the government, national association and the players, who give everything to win games. Nor can we forget the president of the national association, who has made every effort to help us."
Mauritania's climb follows some excellent recent results, with Martins' men clinching a pair of wins from their last three competitive games. In addition to triumphing 2-0 away to Liberia during qualifying for the CAF African Nations Championship Kenya 2018, they also claimed victory away to Botswana in the first round of qualifiers for the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
"We got an important win in Botswana despite difficult conditions," said Martins. "Nevertheless, we have to build on that. We have to give everything on the pitch in order to win, and that's what our players have been doing. They've been following their instructions to the letter, and it's a pleasure to work with them."
* AFCON dream*
Until recently, only the group winners and three best second-placed sides qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations, but CAF's decision to increase the number of places from 16 to 24 for the 2019 edition has significantly boosted Mauritania's prospects. As a result, they are now dreaming of a first ever finals berth.
"With the increase to 24 teams, the top two sides in each group now go through," said Martins. "That's improved our chances of qualification, but you mustn't forget that we have big teams like Burkina Faso in our group. They reached the semi-finals last time out, so they are the favourites. Second place is open and we'll do everything we can to take it."
A former Auxerre player, Martins makes no secret of his main ambition: to steer Mauritania through to their maiden Africa Cup of Nations. "Our goal is to reach the finals, even if we're now in a tough group. Along with Burkina Faso, we also face Angola, who are a great football nation. And I also rate Botswana as one of Africa's better teams, even if we beat them on their own soil. My goal as a coach is to get my team in shape to win as many games as possible and why not qualify for the tournament as well?"
Mauritania and their young coach are clearly planning to climb even higher than 81st spot, and they do not have to wait long for another chance to garner points. Next scheduled for African Nations Championship qualifiers against Mali on 13 and 18 August, they can then bring their Africa Cup of Nations dream a little closer when they host Burkina Faso in March.