Comoros at the Africa Cup: From Fifa place 198 to the hearts of the fans

When Amir Abdou took over as Comoros national team coach in 2014, he didn’t find very much to do with. But at least he found the Comoros, the archipelago on the east coast of Africa from which his ancestors once set out for France. But otherwise not very many people had ever heard of it – until the Comoros qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 2021. A country of 850,000 people in the middle of nowhere managed to do what South Africa, despite having about 50 times the population, failed to qualify. A small sensation.

Since then, the Comoros have been something of the African equivalent of the Faroe Islands when it comes to football; the archipelago has enjoyed a legendary reputation since beating Austria 1-0 in the 1990 European Championship qualifier. Still, it wasn’t enough for the tournament itself, which is why Faroe Islands are now in a way overshadowed by Comoros.

They now have to explain who they are and where they come from. Coach Abdou is used to the questions, his players wanted to know a lot from him before they joined the team. “When you’re a small country that’s proposing a project to these players, it’s very difficult to get them to say: I want to come to the Comoros if we don’t know what we can offer in terms of security,” said he the news channel CNN.

Most of the team that is now playing for the championship in Cameroon, like Coach Abdou, were born in Europe. The coach is from Marseille, where between 100,000 and 200,000 people of Comorian descent have settled, so many that the region is also considered the fifth island of the Comoros.

Coach Abdou collects his players in Europe’s lower leagues

The four main islands of the archipelago were first settled by Asians, Africans, Arabs and Malagasy, the French came last and made them their colonies. What interested them: the strategically favorable location on the trade route to Asia. And what made the Comoros a perfume island: the extracts from the ylang-ylang plant, which can also be found in Chanel No. find 5 The profits from exports stayed in France, and little was invested in the country’s infrastructure.

In 1974, the French asked the islanders what to do next, whether they wanted to remain part of France or be independent. Three of the four islands voted for their own state, only the small Mayotte did not want to break away, today it also belongs to the EU as the 101st department of France. The residents do not regret the decision, the standard of living and the health care are so much better on Mayotte that thousands of Comoros make their way to the neighboring island every year to work there or to get to Europe somehow.

Comoros coach Amir Abdou (right) first had to do some convincing to get players for the national team.

(Photo: Chris Omollo/Shengolpixs/Imago)

Coach Abdou also collected his team there, mostly in the lower classes and with smaller clubs. One of the most famous players is Saïd Bakari, who plays for RKC Waalwijk in the Dutch second division.

“We’re not afraid of anyone,” says Bakari. “We’re here at this tournament, so we’re good too.” They weren’t bad in their first game against Gabon either, but still lost 1-0. It’s not an easy group that the Comoros got into, on Friday they face Morocco and on Tuesday they face Ghana, both favorites to win the tournament.

When the national team comes to the islands, “the country stops 15 days before”

For many years, the Comoros were at the bottom of the Fifa world rankings, making it down to 198th place. The resurgence is due to coach Abdou and his clear concept as well as the funding from Fifa. Under Fifa boss Sepp Blatter, it had become common practice for every association in the world, no matter how small and obscure, to be given a few million dollars and then voted grateful for Blatter. In the Comoros, they have actually improved the infrastructure of the stadiums and set up a training center with the 1.5 million annually from Fifa, according to Deutsche Welle. Progress has been steady over the past few years, much to the delight of the population. When the national team comes to the islands, “the country stops 15 days beforehand,” says coach Abdou. “The country stops and the people live by the team.”

Football unites the otherwise not so few country. While the Comoros long dominated the Fifa table from below, they were at the top of another ranking list: Probably no other nation has experienced so many military coups, more than 20 are said to have been there since independence.

The first were led by French mercenaries, because France had given the Comoros formal independence but did not want to separate completely. Later there were repeated disputes between the two smaller islands of Anjouan and Mohéli and the much larger Grande Comore. It was about power and influence and the distribution of resources. The two little ones felt so disadvantaged that they wanted to secede from the state of Comoros in 1997 and even asked Anjouan to become part of France.

The instability has not exactly contributed to the fact that much could develop in the Comoros. Neighbors in the Seychelles have turned their island into a lucrative tourism area, the Comoros has many beautiful beaches and potential, but few visitors. Corona didn’t exactly make the situation any easier, the islands are almost impossible to reach, which is why no fans were able to travel to Cameroon for the first Africa Cup. The team says it doesn’t matter, they’re still doing their best.

source site