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Comoros’ time to shine!

Football loves a good underdog story. A real David vs. Goliath tale that stirs the emotions and no tournament is producing more of these than the AFCON. There have already been several notable results, including the likes of Equatorial Guinea beating defending champions Algeria in the group stages and Tunisia trumping favourites Nigeria in the round-of-16 just last night.

 

However, one of the most shocking results, also coming in the group-stage, involved an AFCON veteran getting upstaged by a debutant upstart. Comoros, ranked #132 in the world defeated four-time winners and five-time runners-up Ghana 3-2 on matchday three. That result had two consequential effects for both teams. Ghana failed to qualify to the knockout stages for the first time since 2006 with Comoros making through at their expense as one of the best third-placed teams.

 

That set up a true underdog match between the islanders and current favourites Cameroon. If that was not daunting enough, Comoros will have to take on the challenge with 12 players and all three of their goalkeepers missing. Assistant manager Daniel Padovanni has confirmed that an outfield player will be in goal, but there is good news yet with Ali Ahamada returning a negative COVID-test today.

 

Nevertheless, whatever is the result at the end of the match, Comoros can take an immense amount of pride and heart from their daring performances.

 

JOINED CAF IN 2003; FIFA IN 2005

To just get a sense of how young Comoros are, Brazil had won their fifth World Cup before they could even play an officially recognized international match. Even Greece had won a major international trophy before Comoros could participate in a FIFA-backed game. Les Coelacantes had only played the Indian Ocean Island Games since their debut matches in 1979, picking up two third-placed finishes in their debut year and in 1985.

Comoros vs Mauritius
Comoros in action against Mauritius. Image credits: seychellesnewsagency.com

 

They joined the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in 2003, becoming eligible for the AFCON and the African Nations Championship. FIFA certification came two years later, meaning that they could now partake in qualification for the World Cup. Comoros have had to slog and toil for any kind of positive results, but eventually went past the first-round for the first time in the qualification for the 2018 edition. However, making it to the Finals remains a distant dream given how new they are to this world stage.

Comoros national team
The Comoros team that drew with Togo to seal qualification for the 2021 AFCON. Image credits: soka25east.com

 

In fact, Comoros had not made it to the Finals of any national tournament either before the current AFCON, which makes this feat even more laudable. Comoros were placed alongside Egypt, Togo and Kenya in Group C in their qualifying campaign, picking up a solid 1-0 win over Les Eperviers in their opening match. Though they would only win once more (2-1 over Kenya), Comoros avoided defeat in three more of their matches including once against Egypt to punch their ticket to a first ever major tournament appearance as runners-up. And they are certainly not just going to make up the numbers too.

 

TWO LOSSES AND ONE WIN

Morocco, Ghana, Gabon stood in the way of Comoros in these unchartered waters. All three teams were ranked above the debutants and few gave them a chance of qualifying to the knockout stages, even as third-placed finishers. Predictably, they suffered a 1-0 loss in their first match against Gabon after going behind in just the 16th minute. However, Les Coelacantes had dominated most of the proceedings with 63% possession and having nine shots as compared to their opponent’s four.

 

That gave fans hope of possibly avoiding defeat next time but it was not to be. Even with a penalty miss, Morocco swatted Comoros aside 2-0 to leave the islanders’ hopes hanging by a thread. Only a win against the Black Stars would do, who themselves were having a wobbly time and were yet to taste victory. Manager Amir Abdou changed formations for the third time, going with a 4-4-2 to mirror that of Ghana’s.

 

Buoyed by what’s at stake, Comoros scored within five minutes, their first goal in the major international tournament ever, through captain Ben Nabouhane’s smart near-post finish. A debatable red card for Andre Ayew before the half hour mark no doubt had Comoros thinking of capitalizing further. That challenge by the Ghanian on the goalkeeper Salim Boina meant he had to be replaced by Ali Ahamada which would have repecurissions in the future.

 

Star striker Ahmed Mogni added a second just past the hour mark which seemed to have settled matters, Ghana came storming back with two goals in the next 15 minutes. With the game stretched end-to-end, right back Benjaloud Youssouf found Mogni again five minutes from time to finish off the game. Their first win in their debut AFCON would be enough to make it to the next round amidst widespread delirium and celebrations.

 

BIGGEST MATCH YET

Facing hosts Cameroon who have the competition’s top-scorer in Vincent Aboubakar without a recognized goalkeeper in all likelihood? The odds do not get any more steeper for Comoros, who will only have 12 players to select from meaning just one substitute throughout the match. It will take something really special for them to take the game to extra-time itself, let alone win. Mogni will once again be the key threat, playing from the left in tandem with Nabouhane.

 

Youssouf M’Changama is the number 10 playmaker who will be the key in linking up play quickly. Most of the players ply their trade in the French lower divisions and have been regulars for Comoros over the years. The most intriguing aspect will of course be who plays in goal if Ahamada cannot play and which players are available for selection, with the team definitely taking inspiration from Tunisia last night who also had a big outbreak of COVID recently.

 

They can ill afford to miss out on the services of their top players but there’s no choice now. No matter what the scoreline is after the game, Comoros can keep their head high and soak in the pleasures of the best moments in their short footballing history which will put them in great stead for upcoming international tournaments as well.

Ratul Ghosh
His name means Red and a fan of devilish food, which equals to his favourite team being Manchester United. Can be found sleeping or in front of the TV otherwise. Hates waking up early but loves staying up late for football.

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