Usually, when referring to the Africa Cup of Nations, a large chunk of the focus is dedicated to either big teams, such as Egypt, Senegal and Morocco, or to newly qualified teams that bring some hype with them. In the 2019 edition, clear cases can be found in Burundi and Mauritania.
However, another type of team is the small teams that occasionally qualify and usually leave no big impression. In that context, one perfect example is Benin. Although Benin has a French heritage like Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon or even Mali, they had much less success in African football.
Benin Qualified for this year’s AFCON for the first time since 2010. Interestingly, the common aspect between both times is their coach. Unsurprisingly, Benin’s coach is French, like many other coaches in Africa. However, though names such as Alain Giresse, Herve Renard and even deceased Bruno Metsu are well known for football fans, the name of Michel Dussuyer is far less known.
Dussuyer, a former goalkeeper in AS Cannes, is one of the most experienced coaches in African football. His journey to African football started already in 2002 while he was Guinea’s assistant coach. Since then, except one year as the Cannes coach, Dussuyer coached solely African national teams, including Ivory Coast and Guinea, where he served as a head coach for five years between 2010 and 2015. Dussuyer is considered as an expert of African football and its “specific attributes, including the situation of pitches, the heat, the atmosphere,” as he mentioned in recent interviews, although it might not be very famous outside of Africa.
However, the team that he is in a way the most recognized with is Benin. In 2010, the last time Benin qualified for AFCON, Dussuyer was their coach. Moreover, in that tournament Benin secured a 2-2 draw against Mozambique, which remains its only point in the tournament until this week. Therefore, it might not be surprising that earlier this month Dussuyer received an award by the Benin Football Federation as the best coach of Benin in all time. It might not be surprising, then, that his nomination as head coach in 2018 was very well received by local fans.
On the road to qualification, Benin managed to defeat Algeria, a triumph they never made before. Moreover, while in 2010 Benin drew with Mozambique, in this tournament Benin secured the same result, 2-2 against a slightly stronger team, Ghana. With their next game against Guinea Bissau, one of the weakest teams in the tournament, Benin has a great chance to qualify for the next round. In that case, Benin has the opportunity to become one of the Cinderella stories of the tournament. Nevertheless, in 2010, after the “failure” of the team in AFCON, Dussuyer was sacked. It would be interesting to see if the same result will be repeated if Benin doesn’t manage to take the opportunity it got, or Dussuyer can build some roots in Benin and maybe stop wandering around West Africa.