Comoros: Four islands, one dream
Global Game series turns spotlight on Comoros
Coelacanthes on verge of qualifying for maiden Cup of Nations
Progress no surprise for captain Nadjim Abdou
Some victories are worth more than others, and that achieved by Comoros against Kenya (2-1) on 15 November was simply priceless. It left Les Coelacanthes level on points with Egypt atop Group G and on the cusp of qualification for the next CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Having never before graced the continental finals, or any other major tournament, the realisation of that dream is now tantalising close.
"We're aware that it's starting to look good, but we’re staying calm and focused because we still have to make sure we get the additional point we need," team captain Nadjim Abdou told FIFA.com. "At the same time, we shouldn’t deny how pleased we are either. We've taken a big step towards our goal so that’s something we should also relish."
The sentiment is certainly understandable. An AFCON qualification would be a genuine accomplishment for this Indian Ocean archipelago of some 800,000 inhabitants off Africa’s east coast. Just six years ago, the team were languishing around 200th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, when that kind of aspiration would have been unimaginable. And yet...
"My first international appearance was in 2010. At the time the goal was to represent our country as best we could, and that was more or less the extent of it," explains Abdou. "However, we stuck to our values and played to our strengths, which we learned to make the best of over the years. Our coach Amir Abdou then put his stamp on the team and gave our game an identity. We’re now coming of age. For me, it’s no surprise to see us at this level today. We're just reaping the rewards of what we've sown."
Did you know?
Amir Abdou was coach of Entente Golfech-Saint-Paul d'Espis in France’s Division d'honneur (sixth tier) when the Comorian federation approached him.
Strength in unity
As well as a promising side, Comoros also has an ambitious football federation that only joined FIFA in 2005 but which has been working hard ever since. The latter’s first mission was to bring together a country, which has sometimes been divided politically and remains divided geographically into four islands: Anjouan, Moheli, Grande Comore and Mayotte. And it is a mission they have accomplished.
Unsurprisingly, there are no star names in this team. All the players who make up the side have dual nationality, most having been born in France to Comorian parents, and play outside the Comorian championship. For all that, a strong sense of unity binds the squad and is certainly one of the secrets behind their rapid progress.
"The national team perfectly reflects our country and proves that unity is strength. It’s made up of players from every background. All the colours of our flag are represented. That creates unity," says the 36-year-old midfielder. When the team plays, everything stops on the archipelago. Mums, dads, grandmas, grandpas, kids. Absolutely everyone gets behind the national team and are expecting us to represent them in the best possible way. In short, there may be four islands, but there’s just one team!"
It’s a long journey to the Comoros, but it's so worth it. Of course, the country is poor, but Comorians have so much to give. They’re so welcoming, so rich in humanity... Come visit! You won't regret it.
And football is certainly king on these four islands. Each one hosts its own championship, but the overall national champion is the winner of a final tournament played between the champions of only three of the islands, namely Grande Comore, Moheli and Anjouan. But when it comes to Les Coelacanthes, all domestic rivalries are set aside.
"Comoros may be a small country, but our love of football is immense. I daren’t even imagine how much joy a qualification for the AFCON would bring to the whole archipelago. It’d be huge," says Nadjim Abdou before concluding: "AFCON qualification would be an enormous gift to our brothers, to the public who are longing for precisely this. We're playing for them!"