2023 AFCON Qualifiers: 'Nothing is impossible' - Gernot Rohr targets World Cup after taking charge of Benin

Football News Gernot Rohr has taken over as manager of Benin - the fifth African nation he has coached
MAR 23, 2023 LISTEN
Gernot Rohr has taken over as manager of Benin - the fifth African nation he has coached

Benin have had something of a rebrand ahead of this week's Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Not only are the West Africans now known as the "Cheetahs", having ditched their previous "Squirrels" nickname, but they also have a new manager - one who knows African football well.

German Gernot Rohr signed a three-year deal in February and aims to take his new team further than ever before.

"In football nothing is impossible," Rohr told BBC Sport Africa.

"To play at the World Cup is our collective ambition as coaches."

The 69-year-old, who most recently managed Nigeria for five years but has also had spells in charge of Gabon, Niger and Burkina Faso, replaces Frenchman Michel Dussuyer.

His first competitive games in charge will be back-to-back qualifiers against Rwanda as he looks to mastermind qualification for next year's Afcon in Ivory Coast.

The winless Cheetahs, who have only qualified for Afcon four times (2004, 2008, 2010, 2019) are bottom of Group L following defeats to Senegal and Mozambique in their opening two games.

"We need to have big dreams in football," Rohr added.

"We need success that will have a greater impact. It is important because any positive progress is what will help us convince binational players to commit to Benin.

"I've seen our great potential in attack and if we win the next game everything will be wide open.

"Yes, we are behind other teams in the group but we must believe in ourselves.

"I think we can still qualify for the Nations Cup. But if that doesn't happen, we'll have other ambitions."

  • A controversial call-up

Rohr, who guided Nigeria to the 2018 World Cup and to third place at the 2019 Nations Cup, believes a positive attitude is key to building a strong team mentality.

But his first squad selection caused a stir following the inclusion of former Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion midfielder Stephane Sessegnon.

The recall of the 38-year-old has raised a few eyebrows but Rohr has insisted the Malta-based veteran has invaluable experience that will help guide younger players.


The experienced Stephane Sessegnon has been recalled as the Cheetahs bid to qualify for Afcon

This includes four members of the Under-20 squad that reached the quarter-finals of the recent U20 Afcon in Egypt.

"I relied heavily on Moussa Latoundji [former international and caretaker coach] for this list but we both share the same vision which is to take Benin football to another level," he revealed.

"It is still possible to reach the Nations Cup but the objective of the federation and sports ministry is to qualify for the 2026 World Cup."


One Benin fan embraced the Squirrels nickname when the West Africans played at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

  • Squirrels become Cheetahs

Ranked 91st in the world, Benin have never reached the World Cup, finding qualification a tough nut to crack as the Squirrels.

It's hoped the second part of their rebrand - upgrading to a supposedly more intimidating nickname - will see the Cheetahs progress rapidly.

"It is better to have big dreams that you can work towards than allow self-doubt to defeat you," surmised Rohr.

The name change was such a big deal that it even needed government approval when it happened in February.

The Squirrels name was coined in the 1960s, apparently to reflect a small nation aiming to climb high.

Benin's women also have a new nickname - the "Benin Amazons".

Widely applauded as a tribute to an all-female army - the Agodjies, from Benin's ancient Kingdom of Dahomey - the Agodjies are known to Europeans as Amazons.

With the rebrand now in place, Rohr is thinking big and looking to emulate one of the country's neighbours.

"Togo is one of the notable examples of small countries who made it to the World Cup [in 2006] and it is not impossible for Benin to achieve that.

"We just need to drive in the same direction, get the support from fans, media and government to enable us to live the big dream."

Long-suffering fans will be hoping their new manager is right to believe the Cheetahs really can pick up the pace.