Thursday 08 February 2024, 23:00

Comoros are pulling off miracles against all the odds

  • The East African islanders claimed their highest-ever position in the December 2023 edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking

  • The national team have made significant strides despite facing many challenges

  • FIFA is lending its support to the development of Comoran football

A little over two years ago, tournament debutants Comoros faced the formidable Cameroon in the last 16 of the 2021 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. The odds were stacked heavily against the minnows, not least because the three goalkeepers named in their squad were all unavailable for the match due to injury or COVID-19, leaving them with no option but to line up with an outfield player, left-back Chaker Alhadhur, between the sticks. Although there was to be no miracle that day, as the Indomitable Lions beat the Coelacanths 2-1 to advance to the last eight, the encounter has secured its place in African footballing folklore.

It had it all: goals, suspense, drama and breathtaking excitement – in short, all the ingredients of a contest to remember. The epic round-of-16 showdown also proved that Comoros were very much capable of holding their own against the big boys, despite the considerable obstacles that stood in their way.

“We’re a fragile country,” commented Saïd Ali Saïd Athouman, the President of the Comoran Football Association (FFC). “And like any island nation, we find ourselves up against economic, environmental and transport challenges, to name but a few. One such example is the fact that we have to catch a plane to get from one country or from one island to another. That involves expense, and it creates pollution. But despite the difficulties, we keep on fighting to live another day!” Comoros certainly have the tools at their disposal to do just that. The men’s senior national team have been making real strides for the past decade or so, not least latterly, chalking up eye-catching wins over Ghana and Central African Republic in their first two outings of the CAF qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup 26™. Those exploits propelled the islanders up to an all-time best 119th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking released on 21 December 2023.

“The progress we’ve made is the reward for the hard work we’ve put in over the last few years, with the support of the Comoran government in particular,” explained Athouman. “Each of the national-team coaches we’ve had during that time – Amir [Abdou], Younes [Zerdouk] and now Stefano [Cusin] – have done their bit by bringing all of their experience and expertise to the table. It’s been a real team effort. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the support of our people, our supporters in Comoros and the Comoran diaspora, which accounts for no fewer than 90% of our players.” One such star is forward El Fardou Ben Nabouhane, the national-team captain and the country’s all-time leading scorer, with 17 goals to his name. Having been part of the national-team ranks for the past decade, the sharpshooter has been instrumental in the Coelacanths’ rise. “We’ve had that continuity,” he told Inside FIFA. “We were kids ten years ago, but we’ve now become established players after having overcome many obstacles together. Our devil-may-care approach has given way to wiser heads over the years.”

El Fardou Ben Nabouhane (Comoros)

“We’ve obviously come a long way, but it’s hard to gauge exactly how far,” he continued. “As a team, we’ve certainly done the people of Comoros proud, which is something we couldn’t necessarily have said in the past. There’s a real buzz around the national team now, which wasn’t really the case when I first came into the national-team set-up.”

“It’s that togetherness, that bond between our people and the national team that drives us on and helps us to progress,” added the FFC chief. “We don’t have much in the way of resources, and we’re actually under-resourced when compared to other national football associations. I can only imagine the sort of strides we’d be able to make if we had the resources that other associations do. Fortunately, we have the support of FIFA, which provides 80% of our revenue.”

MITSAMIOULI, COMOROS - APRIL 12:    Said Athouman, Comoran Football Association President  during the FIFA President visit to Comoros on April 12, 2023 in Mitsamouli, Comoros. Photo by Mussie Girmay

It’s that togetherness, that bond between our people and the national team that drives us on and helps us to progress

Saïd Ali Saïd Athouman
The President of the Comoran Football Association (FFC)

A lack of investment continues to hold Comoran football back. However, FIFA has stepped in to fund football development initiatives, such as the FIFA Football for Schools Programme and the FIFA Talent Development Scheme. The FFC has also received FIFA Forward Programme funding to build a training centre at Mitsamihouli – a flagship project led by the current Comoran FA board – and for the installation of four artificial pitches across the three islands that make up the country.

In April 2023, during an official visit to Comoros , FIFA President Gianni Infantino met with the country’s President, His Excellency Azali Assoumani, to discuss the future of the game in the East African nation. “We spoke about football, but also about infrastructure and discussed how we can help the game to grow in such a beautiful country. To develop the sport, we need to make sure that the facilities and pitches are in place across all three islands,” said President Infantino, who sat down with Assoumani again last September to discuss progress.

“We really need that support,” stressed Athouman, before adding: “It allows us to tackle the many different challenges we face. Improving our infrastructure and our coach education provision can only but help us to move forwards. We’re heavily reliant on the diaspora, but it’s also important that we have the right structure in place domestically, that we’re able to support our youth talents and bring more national-team players through from our domestic league.” Comoros is getting the support it needs from FIFA, but the nation is also happy to give something back in return. Indeed, a few months after the memorable meeting with Cameroon, the FIFA Museum was delighted to receive the shirt worn by goalkeeper-for-a-day Alhadhur to add to its collection.