ROMMY BOCO has become a national hero after helping his country Benin to the finals of the African Cup of Nations in Ghana in January.
The 2-0 win in Sierra Leone last Friday led to at least 200,000 Benin fans waiting at the airport for the team to arrive home on the Saturday following their qualification.
The 22-year-old Accrington Stanley midfielder is well-loved by his country's fans and also got a financial reward of at least £5,000 from the Benin president for helping his team reach the prestigious finals.
They qualified after coming second in their group which included Togo, Sierra Leone and table toppers Mali.
"It is fantastic," said Boco, whose side, nicknamed 'The Squirrels' reached the African Cup of Nations final in 2004 for the first time but went out in the group stages.
"We did well as we had to put in two big performances against Mali, we drew both games, and beating Sierra Leone was a good win for us.
"We stayed overnight in Sierra Leone and when we got back to Benin there was about 200-300,000 people at the airport waiting for us and we were followed to the hotel. It was wonderful.
"The fans seem to like me - I have scored goals for them and been captain and, like in England, they love the players when the team are playing well.
"We also have good government backing and they give us a lot of things which is a big motivation for the players."
And Boco, who played right wing back for his country, admitted the Benin party was a good one.
"I think everyone in Benin drunk a lot and we went to the national stadium on the Saturday to celebrate and it was packed full of fans. We were all together and it was fantastic."
Frenchman Boco qualifies for Benin through his father. He continued: "We have been together as a team for four or five years and we have continued to progress.
"There are players from the French Premier League, from Italy, Portugal and Switzerland and we have grown in confidence.
"We have no big name players like a Didier Drogba but I think we have some players who play in the French Premier Division and people will know about them soon."
And his and Benin's appearance in such a big competition could be good for Accrington.
"It is good and bad," said Boco. "I will miss some games for Accrington but it is on television and Accrington will be mentioned when we play.
"I will have to talk to the chairman and manager about when I go to start the preparations for the finals.
"I could miss between three and five games for Accrington depending if we get into the quarter-finals.
"The draw is today so it will be interesting to see who we get in our group for the finals.
"The big teams are Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Cameroon but Tunisia, Morocco and Mali are good. And Egypt are the holders. There is big competition.
"Last time we were there we were in a group with Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco and it was tough for us. Hopefully we will get one big team and a couple of normal ones.
"But I do hope to play against one or two of the big name players. It is the ambition of every country to get to at least the quarter-finals but we will see what happens."
While waiting for January, his main focus now is to break back into the Stanley team after a virus sidelined him for the last few weeks.
"We do need to win more games as it is win, lose, win, lose at the moment but a win against Macclesfield tonight will move us into the top ten," he said.
"I think we can do it and we are confident.
"I am coming back from injury but am enjoying it. I can play in many positions - I do have my favourite ones but if the boss needs me to play somewhere else, then I will do it as he is the boss."