Comoros chasing historic firsts
Unlike the ancient fish from which they draw their nickname, the Comoros national team has only been around for about three decades. Having joined FIFA in 2005, Les Coelecantes first entered a major qualifying campaign ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, which also served as the preliminaries for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations of the same year.
Island neighbours Madagascar proved to be too much in that case, as the Comoros failed to progress beyond the first round, losing 10-2 in aggregate, but they returned for the 2012 Cup of Nations and were drawn alongside Libya, Mozambique and Zambia. Their perseverance was almost rewarded when, after losing their opening game in Zambia 4-0, Comoros were seconds away from claiming a historic first point in an official CAF match. However, an injury-time goal by Mozambique midfielder Josimar denied the home side a scoreless draw.
Their third game saw the side beaten 3-0 by Libya in a match that was moved to Bamako due to the unrest in the home nation of their opponents. This weekend Comoros will again try for a historic first-ever point when they face the Libyans in the return leg at the Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh in the capital Moroni. Not only are the team looking for a point, but France-born striker Kemal Bourhani is hoping that he can become the first to score for the side at home. "The guy who will score, especially at home, will become a true national hero,” he said. “I can’t imagine how it would be to score for Comoros."
Getting back to roots
For Bourhani, it will be his first match on home soil, but his connections to the islands are strong. The 29-year-old striker was born of Comoros parents in France and has played for a number of clubs there, including a stint in the first division with Lorient. After not having his contract with second division club Vannes renewed at the end of last season, Bourhani has been on the lookout for a new club and has been training with a fourth division team.
Playing international football has given him a much-needed boost. "Psychologically, I have remained strong, and being approached by the national team helped me a lot,” he told FIFA.com. "My parents are both from the Comoros islands. My mum comes from Mitsoudje, my dad is from Foumbouni in the south, and I understand the language. I have been called up before, but it took a while for things to be finalised."
Bourhani finally joined the team in March this year, ahead of the game against Libya, and he is full of emotion about his debut. "I became an international against Libya, on March 28th of this year,” he said. “Being selected was a very proud moment for me, just as it was listening to the national anthem. The fact that I wore this jersey has given me a fantastic strength since then."
Hoping for the best
Bourhani is part of a small group of French-based Comorians - there is a sizeable community in France, particularly in and around Marseille - who have decided to help the team. "Our group is made up of local players and some expatriates, like Ben Attoumani (Aubervilliers), Gaston Mbelizi (Villemomble), Momo M'Changama (Nîmes) and Ali M’madi (Evian Thonon). We also have Nadjim Abdou (ex-Sedan, Millwall), who could not make it against Libya. Comoros have this chance to count on a young generation of players that play on the French stage."
He jokes that he is the oldest player of the foreigners. "And I am only 29!” says Bourhani. "The federation gives us the best conditions,” he said, before describing the first match against Libya. “We had very little time to prepare, but we managed to block the Libyans for a while. When they scored the first one, we felt they were relieved. Then, we were physically exhausted, and they scored two more. That was the first match with the national team for some of us, and I really think there are reasons to hope for the best."
Bourhani called on fans and officials to throw their weight behind the coach, Mohamed Chamité, and to help continue the forward momentum of the side. "Let’s take the time to build this group. Turning on the coach is no solution,” Bourhani said before returning again to the passions ahead of the upcoming match, where many family members that he has not met will be watching. "I don’t know what to expect from it, but it’s going to be emotional, for sure."