20 competitive outings, 3,084 days without a win. Since embarking on their maiden qualifying campaign for a major tournament in 2007, Comoros’ long wait for their first victory in a competitive international came to an end last month when Les Coelecantes defeated Botswana 1-0 in a CAF Africa Cup of Nations preliminary.
The African minnows’ historic win, under the guidance of head coach Amir Abdou, helped them record their highest-ever position of 159 in April’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, moving up 14 places. For captain and midfielder Nadjim Abdou, their rise is a reflection of the graft displayed by the archipelago island nation's players in recent years.
“It’s a great achievement for the country to record our highest-ever positon [in the Ranking],” Abdou told FIFA.com. “We’ve worked extremely hard to accomplish the first victory and it wasn’t an easy game.
“We started from the bottom and we want to continue building. We have a young team with a bright future. We’ve tried to bring in a lot of good players – both those playing in Comoros and Europe – to strengthen the squad and keep moving forward. We want to build on that and hopefully see ourselves in two years’ time competing against bigger African nations.”
In a national side dominated by players plying their trade in France, it was Greece-based striker El Fardou Ben Nabouhane who produced the only goal of the game against Botswana, finding the net after play had been temporarily halted due to torrential showers, weather typical of Comoros’ humid rainy season.
After both teams had agreed to continue the encounter, Nabouhane - on loan at Levadiakos from Greek titans Olympiacos - displayed good movement on the sodden pitch before slotting home into the bottom corner and sending home supporters into the raptures.
For Abdou, the victory tasted even sweeter in the context of the nearly tales of recent times, with Comoros recording valiant home draws against the likes of Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Ghana as that first win continued to escape their grasp.
“At home, we have always been close to winning games but we would end up drawing,” said Abdou, who plays his club football at English third-tier side Millwall. “We had many disappointments like that when playing at home where we thought we would get something and we didn’t, so the win for us was like a celebration for all those years we had been so close.
“We knew that we had to get something in the end and to see how delighted everyone was, it was special. After the game, we were all very emotional, the players, the manager, the fans – everyone. Everything seemed to stop.”
Against the odds
A group of islands off the south-east coast of Africa, Comoros is a country renowned for its natural beauty, boasting vast sandy shores and colourful coral reefs. Despite the idyllic scenery, however, life in the archipelago can be challenging for its inhabitants, with half the population estimated to be living under the international poverty line.
“Don’t get me wrong, everything is beautiful in Comoros – that’s my country. But the [footballing] facilities are perhaps below par because it is a poor country,” said Abdou. “When you have a lack of facilities, it can be difficult. But it is such a beautiful place and it has great potential.
“That’s why football and sport in general is great for raising the country's profile. When we can get a win like we did, it can give hope to our people.”
While his heart may still be in Comoros, Abdou has been enjoying life in London since signing for English League One side Millwall in 2008. And after celebrating his country’s first win in a competitive qualifier, the 31-year-old has his sights set on success at The Den as the Lions eye a return to England's second tier.
He said: “I’ve been here for a long time now. Everything is so close. I enjoy the lifestyle of being in a big city, you’re free, and my family are happy in London. I think it’s a great, great city.
“Millwall are still in a position to get promoted. We want to make that push to secure a place in the play-offs and go for promotion. It will be tough, but we’re ready for it.”