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Abdou’s Midas touch takes Mauritania on history-making run

AMIR Abdou may be a little-known name in the world of coaching but has now masterminded two improbable feats in successive Africa Cup of Nations finals after leading tiny Comoros Islands and Mauritania to the knockout rounds.

Neither minnow nation had come close before the 51-year-old took charge, but his ability to form a cohesive unit and tap into the countries’ respective diasporas to improve their fortunes has made the little-heralded French-born tactician something of a Cup of Nations icon.

On both occasions his teams have beaten continental giants to advance – in Cameroon two years ago Comoros defeated Ghana 3-2 and at the current tournament in the Ivory Coast, Mauritania edged Algeria 1-0. In each instance, the more fancied teams were dumped out.

His next assignment with Mauritania is a last-16 clash with Cape Verde Islands in Abidjan on Sunday, a fixture he will view as a chance to advance even further in the competition.

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“It’s extraordinary what we are experiencing,” Abdou told Canal+ after the Algeria win. “I told the players that they wrote the history of Mauritania.

“We achieved a victory against a very great football nation, we managed to win against this Algerian team which is far superior to us individually.

“But collectively the team showed a lot of desire and were very disciplined. Our victory is well deserved, we will enjoy it.”

Abdou’s greatest attribute is the ability to take a group of underdogs and mould them into a team that is at the very least competitive.

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He did it with Comoros in their tournament debut two years ago, where they were the third lowest-ranked side in the 24-team competition but reached the last-16, only to lose 2-1 to hosts Cameroon.

And he has brought that same spirit to Mauritania, who had never even led in a game at the Cup of Nations, let alone won before they beat 2019 winners Algeria on Tuesday.

Abdou’s path to coaching has been a less travelled one. He started mentoring children as part of a youth employment scheme when his own playing career was prematurely ended by two cruciate knee ligament injuries.

He rose quietly up the ranks of French amateur football, first in Agen and then at Golfech, where he led the local team to a famous French Cup win in 2013 over third-division Luzenac.

After taking over Comoros a year later, Abdou spent as much time coaching and preparing for internationals, as he did organising travel and even the team’s kit.

He sometimes had to dip into his own pocket to help with the logistics and was still part-time until 2017 when the offer of a monthly salary of 2000 euros gave him enough leeway to leave his job working in the youth services in Agen.

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By NICK SAID

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