Article: Michael Quaye
Benin makes only its second appearance at the African Cup of Nations in Ghana as a written-off outsider in a group that contains heavyweights Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and now Mali.
If Group B is regarded as never short of quality, it is a legacy of the three other mates that has rubbed on their West African colleagues from Benin.
The Squirrels, as the Beninois national side is called, made their first appearance in Tunisia in 2004 under Ghanaian coach Cecil Jones Attuquayefio.
That occasion, easily played up by nationals of the French-speaking country as their proudest moment in football, was reminiscent of a cup-winning feat as it literally turned the country into a festival ground.
It was the single major achievement that gave the republic both political recognition across the world and fame in African football.
Two years after, The Squirrels floundered in the qualifiers for Egypt, and when they failed to reach the finals, it came as no surprise.
But their qualification for the tournament in Ghana, alongside group winners Mali, in a group that featured Togo, was as vintage as they could ever make it. With the last games remaining in Group 9, The Squirrels needed a win in Sierra Leone to take their destiny in their own hands, while Mali battled Togo in Lome where one of the two could fall out.
A 2-0 victory in Freetown was the perfect result that Sierra Leone wanted, and when Togo succumbed to Mali at home, the news made no impact on Benin’s qualification.
With no major ‘star’ to look up to, The Squirrels have held teamwork and unity as their mainstay in their struggle to emerge from the doldrums of international football. Ghana 2008 is just another effort in this direction.