Coach of the Comoros national football team Amir Abdou believes that his team are on the right path and should not be ruled out of a shock qualification for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations.
“I can see how far we’ve come, but I’m not surprised by it. It’s just the result of a lot of hard work,” Abdou said. “We’re very proud all the same and we’re not planning on stopping here. There’s still room for improvement.”
The Comoros Football Federation’s (FFC) decision to appoint as Abdou national team coach back in January 2014 came as a surprise to everyone. Entrusting a struggling team to a 42-year-old coach with no real experience was regarded as a brave move by many.
The FFC approached Abdou while he was in charge at Entente Golfech-Saint-Paul d’Espis, a team in France’s sixth tier. Born in Marseille in 1972 and of Comorian ancestry, Abdou was initially offered a position as assistant coach to Henri Stambouli. But when Stambouli turned the job down, the FFC made Abdou their head coach, a decision they did not regret.
“There were several people in the running for the job but after a few interviews, they decided to go for me,” said a smiling Abdou, evidently happy with life. “My positive mindset, my desire to do things right and my sense of organisation no doubt convinced them. I’m so proud to be a national team coach, especially with my home country.
“What really puts a smile on my face is the passion that your team can generate,” he added. “The stakes are higher. It’s not a town or a region behind you but a whole country, a whole nation of people. That changes everything. Club football is just as important, but the adrenaline is on another level in international football.”
But six years on that perceived gamble has proved to be inspired. Led by their unheralded coach and jumping from 198th to 133rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
Comoros have experienced an upturn in their fortunes since Abdou’s arrival. He began his tenure with a 1-1 draw against Burkina Faso, who were flirting with the top 50 of the FIFA Ranking at the time. His team has recorded a few other notable results since then, including a 1-1 draw with Gabon and a 0-0 draw with Ghana, though they have yet to kick on and claim a coveted place at either the FIFA World Cup™ or the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
Nevertheless, good results have continued to come in the qualifiers for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, which have seen them record a first ever away win in an official match – a 1-0 victory in Togo – and hold Egypt to a goalless draw.
“If there’s one match that stands out, it would have to be the draw with Ghana in 2015, in the qualifiers for Russia 2018,” said Abdou. “We deserved to win and the people of Comoros celebrated it as if we had. It’s an amazing memory and a benchmark performance for us.”
There are no star names in this national team, with most of its members playing in lower divisions in Europe’s top leagues. The only one with any experience of European club competition is forward El Fardou Ben Nabouhane, who plays for Serbia’s Crvena Zvezda. Not that the coach is worried about his charges’ relative lack of top-level experience.
“You don’t need to have amazing players,” said Abdou, who named Kassim Aballah (Al Raed FC), Nadjim Abdou (Martigues), Fouad Bachirou (Nottingham Forest), Youssouf M’Changama (Grenoble) and Ben Nabouhane as the spine of his team. “If you’ve got a healthy and hard-working group of players and you don’t have any problems with egos, then you can get the same results as any dream team.
“If you look at our performances, and with the exception of the 3-0 defeat to Cameroon in the qualifiers for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, we’ve always given as good as we’ve got against the teams we’ve faced,” explained the coach. “We’ve lost a few games but we’ve made life difficult for all of them. We play to our strengths: discipline, organisation and a fantastic team spirit.”
Knocked out by Togo in the preliminary round of the African qualifiers for the Qatar 2022, Comoros are currently striving for a place at the 2022 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. They stand top of Group G of the qualifiers ahead of Kenya, Egypt and Togo.
“This is my third qualifying campaign and we’re getting better all the time,” he explained. “We got three points the first time, five the second, and now we’re aiming for qualification. We’re not going to deny it. I’m not saying that opposition teams are scared of us, but I do think they’re wary of us now. And as the results we got against Togo and Egypt show, we’ve got good reason to hope.”