Martins' Mauritania on the march
Corentin Martins has been coach of Mauritania for six years
He guided Al-Murabitun to their maiden Africa Cup of Nations qualification
French coach dreaming of Qatar 2022
Corentin Martins has been at the helm of the Mauritanian national team since 2014. And while six years in charge of an African national team is something of a rarity, the country’s decision to stick with the Frenchman is now paying off thanks to his realistic long-term goals.
In an interview with FIFA.com, the former France and Auxerre midfielder said: "After I left the French club Brest I was looking for a new project. That’s when I was offered the Mauritania job. The first thing I noticed was how skilled the players were. I watched the local league games and was impressed by the talent I saw.”
Martins has revolutionised Mauritanian football by helping local players improve enough to play overseas and then return to represent their country as professionals.
Speaking about this process, Martins said: "Since Mauritania didn’t have players in France or other European countries, I assembled a squad consisting mostly of local guys along with seven others based overseas. Now, it’s the opposite. I have 16 overseas players and six from the domestic league, which shows how much many of them have progressed.”
No-one would dispute that Mauritania can produce technically-gifted players, but they have sometimes been hindered by a lack of self-belief. “When I started this job, I knew the team hadn’t been getting good results, so we adopted a gradual approach, taking things one match at a time. We needed to instil confidence in the players, who have great potential, and help them overcome the fear they had when facing opponents," Martins said.
“Thanks to some good results and victories, the players began to exhibit more confidence. Six years ago, you could see the fear in their eyes before games, but they have managed to overcome those anxieties. These days, things are markedly different and they take to the field determined to win,” he added.
November 2018 was an historic month for Mauritania. It was then that they hosted Botswana in Nouakchott needing to win to reach the CAF Africa Cup of Nations for the first time. Despite going a goal down in the fourth minute, Moctar Sidi El Hacen levelled on 19 minutes for the hosts before Diakite scored their winner in the 84th minute on a momentous day for the Northwest African country.
Asked about that achievement, Martins said: "That month will forever remain engraved in our memories. What we experienced that day was incredible and the most beautiful moment of my career. The sheer joy among the players and staff as well as the delirium of the fans and elderly in the stands made us feel proud of what we’d achieved.”
Despite exiting in the first round, Al-Murabitun’s performance at the African finals was creditable. “There was a lot of regret after our first game, particularly as we’d kept a clean sheet for 30 minutes, but our opponents were Mali, who are a very good team.
"We then drew against Angola and actually played very well against Tunisia in our final game, which we came close to winning. We created many chances but unfortunately failed to exploit them. Our appearance at the finals remains a fond memory and now we want to make the next edition,” the coach explained.
Qatar 2022 dream
Martins and his charges have now turned their focus to the FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, where they have been drawn in an even looking group featuring Tunisia, Zambia and Equatorial Guinea.
Speaking about the task ahead, the 50-year-old Frenchman said: "We know Tunisia very well, and they’re a tough team to play against. They have quality players and they participated in the most recent World Cup. Equatorial Guinea are like us and will be hoping to cause an upset. Zambia are a good team and have had some really good results. They’ve even won an African title. It’s going to be a tough task, but we believe in our chances and we’ll continue do so until the end.”
Martins nonetheless believes that the Eagles of Carthage are favourites on paper. "Despite how balanced the group is, we have to accept that Tunisia are favourites to qualify, but we’ll see how the other games unfold. We’ve played Tunisia at least five times in the last five years, the most recent of which was at the Africa Cup of Nations. For our part, we’ll prepare well and hopefully get to experience another unique moment.”
Having led Al-Murabitun to their first appearance at the continental finals, Martins now harbours World Cup ambitions, as he told us at the end of our interview. "Every coach dreams of the World Cup, and I want to achieve this goal with Mauritania. However, we’ll be taking things one game at a time and doing our utmost to get good results and top our group. I’m certainly dreaming of Qatar 2022.”