- Abdoul Ba is captain of Mauritania
- Team have climbed more than 100 FIFA Ranking places over last eight years
- After AFCON 2019, Al-Murabitun are targeting Qatar 2022.
"I enjoy the role of the little guy who wants to beat the giant." The words are those of national team coach Corentin Martins from a 2015 interview with FIFA.com. Back then his side were still looking for their maiden appearance at a major tournament.
Now, five years on, it is clear that Al-Murabitun are good enough to compete with the region’s big guns. The team finally took their place at the continent’s top table by qualifying for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2019 and are in the running for a ticket to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. In short, their growth has been exponential, in the image of their towering captain Abdoul Ba, who stands at 2.03m (6"7).
Big, strong and modest
"My size? I find more advantages than disadvantages," the 26-year-old central defender tells FIFA.com. "Over the years, I've learned to make the most of it. It’s especially handy for aerial balls! Overall, I don’t think I'm doing too badly."
We are certainly not going to argue with the colossus of AJ Auxerre. In any case, what is indisputable is that Ba's inclusion in the national team has coincided with its steady progress. Mauritania were not even in the world’s top-200 the year before his first call-up. Eight years later, they now occupy 100th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
"[I’ve been called the] 'Star man', 'talisman', 'pillar of the team'... but I don't really like superlatives. But it's true that my team-mates and I have felt the public’s pride since we managed to qualify for the AFCON," says one of the team’s most capped players, with 39 appearances to his name.
Though unquestionably modest, there is no denying that his influence on and off the pitch has contributed to his side’s improved results. Yet even after being made team captain, he prefers to keep a low profile: "It's an honour, but it hasn't changed much in my life. In any case, I don't feel above any of the others," insists the player, who was actually born in Dakar Senegal.
Cooperation, optimism and caution
In fact, there are many factors behind the recent progress of Mauritanian football. And as effective as he is, Ba admits that he is just one link in a long chain. "Our progress? It's a series of things: the coach, the staff, the players, the federation... we all contribute. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time," he confirms. "But it pays dividends."
After the AFCON 2019 in which Mauritania defeated two former World Cup participants – Tunisia and Angola – the country is now aiming considerably higher. In the second round of African qualifiers for Qatar 2022, Al-Murabitunwill cross swords with continental heavyweights Tunisia in Group B, where Equatorial Guinea and Zambia also lie in wait.
"Everything is achievable," Ba announces before concluding: "We’ve seen enough surprises in football over the years, exceptional comebacks in matches... Of course, we’ve made progress, but Mauritania remains a modest footballing nation and the World Cup is a massive challenge. But why not? Who can stop us from dreaming?"