- Djibouti through to round two of Africa’s Qatar 2022 qualifiers
- African side have climbed nine places in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
- Coach Julien Mette explains the reasons behind the rise and its positive impact
Djibouti had gone more than two years without winning a competitive match, having not played at all between July 2017 and 2019, when Julien Mette came along to revive their flagging fortunes and give them a new identity.
The French coach has brought success quicker than expected, however, with the Djiboutians excelling themselves in advancing to the second round of the African qualifying competition for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
After reaching the group phase for only the second time in their history, Djibouti promptly rose nine places in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking for September, which is much more than a mere statistic for Mette and the nation he now represents. “When you’re 200th, it reflects on the national football team and the country too, not just the national association and the players,” he told FIFA.com.
“There are countries who attach less importance to it because they’re right up at the top and they have everything they need, but for little countries like Djibouti it is important,” continued Mette, who has taken his team up to 186th in the Ranking. “Climbing nine places makes everyone feel proud.
“The Ranking represents success in the highest-profile sport in the world, albeit a sport in which we never get talked about. So it goes without saying that we appreciate it, we care about it, and we don’t want to stay stuck at the bottom.”
While the 2-1 aggregate win over Eswatini in the first round of the African qualifiers is the main reason for that climb up the global standings, Mette is quick to draw attention to all the work that goes on behind the scenes.
“If you just talk about the FIFA Ranking, it’s the team first, which means the results are down to the players first and foremost,” he explained.
“It’s a collective effort, though. The players and the staff who help me on an everyday basis get what I’m doing when I shake everyone’s routines up. I’m shaking the tree so that the fruit can fall, and sometimes I’m too impatient and demanding,” added Mette, almost by way of an apology to his colleagues but aware that this is the only way of making progress.
“Nobody takes offence at it, and though I do raise my voice sometimes, there’s no one who feels I’ve been too harsh. Credit to them for looking at themselves and changing their mindsets. The players have changed their approach to the sport and they have a lot more confidence in themselves.”
Mette has the confidence of the President of the Djiboutian Football Association, Souleiman Hassan Waberi, who gave him the sole objective of ensuring the team does not suffer heavy defeats, while giving him free rein to apply his own methods.
“A good president is a president who makes good choices, who asks people who don’t do their job to move on and who brings in people who can take things forward,” said the 37-year-old coach, who has revived the pride of everyone connected to Djiboutian football.
“Winning this qualifying tie has made everyone more ambitious,” added Mette. “It’s made me so happy because no one would have dared predict it back in January or February. I was the only one because I knew exactly what I was going to do and that I had the players to do it.
“I couldn’t say how long it was going to take, but it’s happened earlier than expected. Nobody dared talk about qualifying; that would have been big talk. But in a few months we gone from ‘Let’s not concede too many goals’ to ‘We have to win’ and now ‘We’re going to win’.
The Djiboutians will need to maintain that positive mindset on the road to Qatar 2022, given that they are virtually certain to be facing three teams of a much higher pedigree in the group phase.
“Djibouti have a one per cent chance of being among the five African countries that will go to the World Cup; we all know that,” said Mette, who also knows that progress cannot be achieved without ambition: “That’s not going to stop us from trying to win every match, though, because if you just play not to lose then the best you can ever hope for is the odd draw. But if you try to win every game, then you can actually win one every now and again.”