Updated date:

Comoros and Its 16-Year Sojourn to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations

Antonio Martinez graduated from Montclair State University with a BA in History and a double minor in Journalism and Russian Area Sudies.

In 2017, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) expanded its prestigious continental showpiece to allow 24 nations to achieve glory. The move opened the doors for developing nations who hope football can provide a platform for change.

In the 2019 African Cup of Nations, three nations debuted: Madagascar, Burundi, and Mauritania. A fourth nation, Tanzania, ended a 39-year drought to return to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. In 2021, two nations achieved success with their respective qualification campaigns to debut at the 2021 edition.

One of those nations is a volcanic archipelago whose history included military coups during the 1990s. Under the guidance of a then-inexperienced coach and the ability to recruit French-born players with ancestral roots, Comoros became the second-smallest nation to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Comoran players celebrate inside Stade Omnisports de Malouzini during a 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Kenya on Nov. 15, 2020. Comoros qualified for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations four months later.

Comoran players celebrate inside Stade Omnisports de Malouzini during a 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Kenya on Nov. 15, 2020. Comoros qualified for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations four months later.

Baby Steps and a Baptism of Fire

Compared to many other African nations, Comoros' footballing history is brief. The 1979 Indian Ocean Games marked the archipelago's debut, but it would not be until Sept. 12, 2005, when the nation became FIFA's 207th member. Before FIFA, Comoros only played matches in the Indian Ocean Games, and none came at home.

The nation's first games in 1979 occurred at the Stade Michael Volnay in Saint-Denis, Réunion, and its common opponents included Madagascar and Mauritius. Aside from its French influence, Comoros also has Arabic roots. In 2006, Comoros played two qualifying matches for the 2009 Arab Nations Cup (which ended up being canceled), the nation's first FIFA-recognized matches. Comoros achieved its best result to date during the qualifiers - a 4-2 victory against Djibouti in Sana'a, Yemen, in which Comoros won for the first time since Aug. 23, 1990.

On Aug. 14, 2007, Comoros played to a 3-0 defeat against Madagascar at Antananarivo's Mahamisina Stadium.

On Oct. 14, 2007, Comoros traveled to the same venue, and the stakes were enormous.

That was because Comoros and Madagascar kicked off qualifying for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations (the campaign also doubled with the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying phase). Comoros was debuting in a major qualifying campaign, and a sixth-minute goal from Daoud Midtadi marked the first goal of the qualifiers. Still, it would be one of Comoros's lone highlights as the 1-0 lead lasted until the 30th minute when Madagascar's Faneva Imà Andriatsima scored the first of his four goals.

Comoros had a tall task ahead of its second leg as the nation made history. Located in the northwest section of Grand Comore, the Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh in Mitsamiouli opened as Comoros' national stadium in 2007. Fans witnessed the national team play home, but the result was another four-goal defeat. The 10-2 aggregate defeat was a cruel series that Comoros endured as the nation would struggle internationally.

Players from Comoros (white) and Madagascar (red) line up ahead of a matchup in 2007 at Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh in Mitasouli, Comoros. This 2010 AFCON/WC qualifier was the first game Comoros hosted since first playing internationally in 1979.

Players from Comoros (white) and Madagascar (red) line up ahead of a matchup in 2007 at Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh in Mitasouli, Comoros. This 2010 AFCON/WC qualifier was the first game Comoros hosted since first playing internationally in 1979.

Rough Times

Lack of defense became a significant issue in Comoros' 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign, which began with a 4-0 loss in Zambia, its opponent eventually winning the tournament. Comoros allowed 10 of its 14 goals away while dropping points that would have preserved draws. A month after losing in Zambia, Comoros nearly had a vital draw against Mozambique until Josemar's late goal determined the outcome.

Comoros lost 1-0 to Mozambique on Oct. 9, 2010, in the first of four losses over 13 months against the east African nation. In addition to losing 3-0 in the qualifying finale on Oct. 8, 2011, Comoros lost both matches against Mozambique in qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in November 2011.

Comoros did not score until its fourth qualifier when an 83rd-minute goal from Abdoulaide Mzé Mbaba helped his nation achieved a 1-1 draw against Libya (who also reached the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations) on June 5, 2011. Comoros' other goal came three months later when Marseille-born Youssouf Yacoub M'Changama scored against Zambia. Another draw seemed possible but similar to its home game against Mozambique, Comoros allowed Emmanuel Mayuka's 87th-minute goal to give Zambia a win 2-1.

One point was all Comoros achieved. The result was devastating as Comoros did not even enter into the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. The two matches Comoros played against Mauritius in the 2014 African Nations Championship would be the last matches for nearly 15 months.

A change would alter the nation's footballing history.

One Historic Draw to Get on Track

On Jan. 5, 2014, Comoros hired Amir Abdou as its manager. Abdou's most recent experience involved a stint with Entente Golfech-Saint-Paul d'Espis, a club in France's sixth division. To achieve national success, Abdou set out and sought seeking expatriates players of Comorian descent across Europe. One of these players also included Youssouf M'Changama's elder brother Mohamed as the siblings debuted in a 1-0 loss to Mozambique on Oct. 9, 2010.

Youssouf started against Burkina Faso in a friendly at Stade Francis Turcan, located in Martigues, France. The first game in 15 months saw Comoros face an opponent who finished as runners-up at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and nearly missed out on reaching the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Early in the match, Burkina Faso took the lead after 17 minutes, when Alain Traore converted a penalty kick. Comoros sought the equalizing goal and, early in the second half, achieved a significant opportunity. The referee had issued a red card on Burkina Faso's Wilfred Benjamin Balima in the 49th minute after a foul inside the penalty area. Youssouf converted the ensuing penalty kick for his first international goal.

The elder Mohammed came on in the 67th minute as Comoros hoped to defend. Comoros nearly scored one more goal, but in the end, the 1-1 draw against one of Africa's emerging nations was a significant shock.

More importantly, the result gave Comoros optimism ahead of its two-legged series with Kenya. These matches were qualifiers for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Comoros hung in with the East African nation over the two legs, but Yacine Saandi scored the only goal in the series. His goal, coming in the second leg, was not enough as Comoros went out of the tournament 2-1 on aggregate.

Comoros had something to look forward to in 2015 as the nation was no longer losing matches lopsidedly. Still, the goals needed to come.

Comoran players celebrate with fans inside Stade Francis Turcan following a friendly match against Burkina Faso in 2014. The match finished 1-1 as Comoros played its first match in 15 months.

Comoran players celebrate with fans inside Stade Francis Turcan following a friendly match against Burkina Faso in 2014. The match finished 1-1 as Comoros played its first match in 15 months.

One Historic Away Goal

Comoros' national football team is nicknamed after the West Indian Ocean coelacanth, a rare ray-finned and hollowed-spined fish thought to have been extinct until recent discoveries in the 20th century. Until the 2014 friendly against Burkina Faso, Comoros was virtually extinct in football.

But in 2015, Comoros had one of its busier years as the nation had a new goalkeeper. Abdou sought another Marseille-born player, and this time it was for a goalkeeper. That goalkeeper was Salim Ben Boina, and his experience included regional football for Gardanne in France's lower leagues. Usually playing in a 3,000-seat stadium, Ben Boina started at 35,000-seat Stade du 4-Août in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

That match was the first of six qualifiers for Comoros to reach the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. Ben Boina had a decent game, and for an hour, Comoros held Burkina Faso at bay. That was until a 61st-minute goal broke the scoreless deadlock. Comoros gained respect, but not the victory.

Ben Boina played in all eight matches in 2015, included a two-legged series against Zimbabwe as Comoros lost 2-0 on aggregate during the 2016 Africa Nations Championship qualifiers. Comoros's defense improved as it had not allowed more than two goals since 2011, but the offense had struggled. The glaring example included Comoros' next 2017 qualifier at home to Uganda. Trailing 1-0, Comoros had a chance to tie the match, but Mohamed M'Changama missed his penalty kick in the 65th minute.

That scoreless drought continued into its FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Lesotho, with the first leg finished scoreless. Another early exit seemed likely when Lesotho Tšepo Seturumane scored 19 minutes into the second leg. The landlocked nation was looking to continue its recent upward trend until the elder M'Changama made amend. His 71st-minute goal determined the outcome as the away goal sent Comoros into dreamland.

Ranked 187th in July 2015, Comoros was the lowest-ranked African nation to advance to the second round. The nation's reward was a two-legged match against Ghana, who had played at the previous three World Cups. Thanks to Ben Boina and defending, Comoros scalped a shock scoreless draw. Though it lost four days later in the second leg, Comoros had achieved something significant. Abdou laid a foundation, but more was to come.

Whatever the Outcome, I'm Enjoying It.

One Historic Win as the Islands Draw on Inspiration

Mohamed M'Changama's goal in Maseru was remarkable, but the next goal Comoros scored sent shockwaves across Africa. The individual who scored the goal established a respective club career that included a stint in France's Ligue One with Le Havre.

Born in Passamainty, a village on the French collectivity Mayotte, El Fardou Mohamed Ben Nabouhane was a member of Le Havre's 2008-09 squad that achieved promotion to France's top league. The forward had been on loan with Greek outfit Levadiakos in January 2016, when he scored against Greek giants Olympiakos, the club Ben Nabouhane had been just three weeks earlier.

Ben Nabouhane debuted for Comoros in the 1-1 draw against Burkina Faso in 2014. Two years later, Comoros continued its 2017 qualifying campaign against Botswana on Mar. 24, 2016, four years earlier debuted in the 2012 edition. Comoros was winless in 20 previous significant qualifiers, but Ben Nabouhane scored his first-ever goal to break a scoreless stalemate.

Torrential rains delayed the game, but Comoros achieved its long-awaited victory. Three days later, in the rematch in Francistown, Yossouf M'Changama put Comoros up again. The nation nearly achieved a sweep against the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations participants. However, Botswana was able to tie the match, and a goal from Joel Mogrosi denied Comoros another famous result. Despite the last-place finish, Comoros held their own in a group that saw Burkina Faso and Uganda qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

One year after its historic victory, Comoros began 2017 with goals from Benjaloud Youssouf and Chakhar Alhadhur in the first leg of its preliminary matchup against Mauritius proved significant in advancing to the next qualifying round. The reward was matchups against Cameroon, Morocco, and Malawi in a qualifying campaign that lasted 19 months, owing to the CAF's decision to expand the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations to 24 nations.

Comoros was dreaming of a shock berth, and one player who understood upsetting the applecart achieved a feat in 2017. Born in Valence and having debuted in the 1-1 draw with Burkina Faso in 2014, Fouad Bachirou joined Swedish club Östersunds FK that same year, who four years earlier was playing in Sweden's Division 2 (fourth level of Swedish club football).

Bachirou was on the club's squad that achieved promotion to Sweden's Allsvenskan in 2015. Following that achievement, Bachirou also helped Östersunds FK win the 2016-17 Svenska Cupen and its first club football appearance. The achieved helped Östersunds FK upset Turkish giants Galatasary in Europa League qualifying as the Swedish club rode the momentum to a Round of 32 appearance in their maiden voyage.

Jubilant Scenes

Nearly Achieving the Impossible

After losing to Malawi to open its 2019 qualifiers, Comoros turned its attention to the 2018 African Nations Championship qualifying, and goals from Youssouf Ibroihim Djoudja and Raidou Bouna Bacar gave Comoros a vital result against Lesotho. Despite losing in the second leg eight days later, Comoros advanced to the next round.

Only Namibia stood between Comoros and the 2018 African Nations Championship. However, experience decided this two-legged series in which Comoros had a 2-0 lead after the aggregate's first 45 minutes. Muna Katupose, a member of Namibia's squad at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, scored both goals in the second leg. The second goal came in stoppage time and denied Comoros a shock qualification.

Still, Comoros won four games in 2017, compared to three victories between 2005 and 2016. The fourth win came in a friendly against Mauritania on Oct. 6, 2017. A lone goal from Youssouf M'Changama decided the match in Tunis, and it would mark the first of three consecutive games the then Gazélec Ajaccio midfielder notched.

As the focus shifted to the 2019 qualifiers, another goalscorer emerged in a group as Comoros hoped to achieve results against two African giants. On Sept. 8, 2018, Comoros had Cameroon on the ropes when Ben Nabouhane put his nation ahead after 15 minutes. Only a Stephane Bahoken goal 10 minutes from time denied Comoros a famous victory, but Comoros had a bonafide forward.

Ben Nabouhane led all scorers in its qualifying group with four goals, including two goals against Morocco on Oct. 16, 2018. Those gave Comoros a crucial 2-2 draw, having come three days after Morocco salvaged a 1-0 victory courtesy from Fajr seven minutes into stoppage time. Against Malawi on Nov. 16, 2018, Ben Nabouhane needed only two minutes to put Comoros ahead.

Though Malawi tied the match in the second half, the result would not last. Cue in Lyon-born Nasser Chamed, a forward for Romanian club Gaz Metan Mediaș to notch his first international goal two minutes later. The 2-1 victory had another added incentive two weeks later; with Cameroon stripped of its hosting duties for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, Comoros could qualify as one of the top two nations. Achieving victory was a lot to ask as Comoros lost 3-0 and a promising opportunity to complete an improbable journey.

Comoros' Kassim M'Dahoma (L) and Morocco's Nordin Amrabat battle for the ball during a 2019 AFCON qualifier at Stade Casablanca V on Oct. 3, 2018. Comoros lost this qualifier on a late goal, ultimately denting its qualification hopes.

Comoros' Kassim M'Dahoma (L) and Morocco's Nordin Amrabat battle for the ball during a 2019 AFCON qualifier at Stade Casablanca V on Oct. 3, 2018. Comoros lost this qualifier on a late goal, ultimately denting its qualification hopes.

2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualification Results

Comoros finished last in its qualifying group due to Malawi having more road goals after both nations finished level with five points.

DateOpponentScoreVenue

Mar. 24, 2017

Mauritius (H)

2-0 Mauritius

Mitasouli: Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh

Mar. 28, 2017

Mauritius (A)

1-1

Belle Vue Maurel: Stade Anjalay

June 10, 2017

Malawi (A)

1-0 Malawi

Blantyre: Kazumu Stadium

Sept. 8, 2018

Cameroon (H)

1-1

Mitasouli: Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh

Oct. 13, 2018

Morocco (A)

1-0 Morocco

Casablanca: Stade Mohamed V

Oct. 16, 2018

Morocco (H)

2-2

Mitasouli: Said Mohamed Cheikh

Nov. 17, 2018

Malawi (H)

2-1 Mauritius

Moroni: Stade de Moroni

Mar. 23, 2019

Cameroon (H)

3-0 Cameroon

Yaoundé: Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo

Another Watershed Moment

Perhaps the most notable player Abdou recruited with Comoran roots once played for France at youth level. A member of France's under-21 team between 2011 and 2012, Ali Ahamada emerged as the primary goalkeeper for Toulouse FC. His claim to fame involved scoring a stoppage time goal Ahamada scored to salvage a 2-2 home draw against Rennes. Ahamada made his international debut as starting goalkeeper in the 1-0 victory against Botswana in 2016 and retained the position.

Ahamada would be the nation's primary goalkeeper as the nation embarked on a busy 2019. First, the nation hoped to emerge from the shadows in which its region's best nations include South Africa and Zambia. Comoros achieved its best performance in the COSAFA Cup, courtesy of its 2-1 victory against Mauritius.

In the following months, Comoros endured early eliminations in two separate qualifying campaigns. Once again, it was Namibia that eliminated Comoros from the 2020 African Nations Championships. Then, Togo sent the archipelago out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers 3-1 on aggregate.

The second leg in the World Cup qualifiers took place in Lome, Togo, and it would be there where Comoros returned to start the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. In between these matches was a 1-0 victory against Guinea that Comoros achieved in Versaille, France, with Ben Nabouhane scoring the goal. The first-ever meeting with the West African nation preceded another notable first in the same venue where the World Cup dream ended. Once again, another Marseille-born player set the stage.

Did You Know?

Only five players have scored a goal for Comoros in a FIFA World Cup qualifier as of 2021, but Ibrahim Djoudja is the first to score at home when his goal tied Togo in a 1-1 match on Sept. 6, 2019. The previous four players to score for Comoros in a FIFA World Cup qualifier are Daoud Midtadi (at Madagascar on Oct. 14, 2007); Ibor Bakar (at Madagascar on Oct. 14, 2007); Mohammed Youssof (at Mozambique on Nov. 15, 2011); Mohammed M'Changama (at Lesotho on Oct. 13, 2015).

At Long Last! The Unthinkable Has Happened!

A striker for Ligue One club Lorient in 2017, Faïz Selemani first debuted against Madagascar at the Stade Municipal in the Parisian commune of Saint-Leu-la-Forêt. Selemani assisted on a Youssouf M'Changama goal in that Nov. 11, 2017 match. Nearly two years later with Belgian club KV Kortjik, Selemani scored a goal in the 51st minute against Togo, which proved to be the only goal.

The 1-0 victory was Comoros' first away qualifying victory, and four days later, the nation followed up that result with another scalp. Comoros recorded an unfathomable scoreless draw against Egypt, the seven-time Africa Cup of Nations champions, thanks to goalkeeping. Four points and atop its group, Comoros had been one of the early shocks in qualifying as the nation looked forward to 2020.
When the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations' schedule was unveiled, Comoros expected to play Kenya between Aug. 31 and Sept. 8, 2020. However, on Jan. 16, 2020, the CAF moved the Africa Cup of Nations tournament earlier to January 2021, owing to Cameroon's unseasonable climate. In essence, Comoros's last qualifier would come in September 2020.

On Mar. 13, 2020, the CAF postponed these qualifiers as the COVID-19 pandemic put sports on hold. It would not be until Aug. 19, 2020, that the CAF pushed the tournament to January 2020, with the remaining qualifiers occurring in November 2020 and March 2021. Before returning to qualifying, Comoros played a friendly in Rades, Tunisia. Once again, Youssouf M'Changama proved another notable goal as his late goal broke a 1-1 draw against Libya and completed the comeback.

Youssouf M'Changama also scored a month later as Comoros resumed qualifying. The goal proved crucial as Comoros achieved a 1-1 draw in Kenya. Less than a week later, Ben Nabouhane scored to become Comoros' first double-digit goalscorer in the return leg.

It would be Comoros' first player born in 2000 that put a nation on the precipice.

Born in Mayotte's capital Mamoudzou, Ajaccio striker Faiz Mattoir debuted in the 1-1 draw on Nov. 11, 2020 in Kenya. With another match level at 1-1, Mattoir scored four minutes into the second half. Comoros hung on dearly against a nation that had reached the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations after a 15-year absence, and in the end, Comoros needed just one point from two games to achieve the qualification.

On Mar. 25, 2021, Comoros accomplished the dream against Togo. Another scoreless home draw against a former World Cup participant meant Comoros qualified for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. With a population nearly equivalent to that of South Dakota, Comoros is the second smallest nation (850,889 as of 2019) to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations (only the Cape Verde Islands have a smaller population to reach Africa's premier tournament).

Not even a 4-0 loss in Egypt could dampen the celebrations four days later. Comoros achieved its long-awaited accomplishment of reaching a major tournament. Come January 2022, Comoros might be a long shot to make noise in the Africa Cup of Nations. One thing is sure: Comoros achieved its success through a plan of recruiting French-born talent with Comoran roots to play for a nation few imagined competing for success.

Comoros' Road to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations

Comoros qualified for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations courtesy of the 0-0 draw against Togo on Mar. 25, 2021.

DateOpponentScoreVenue

Nov. 15, 2019

Togo (A)

1-0 Comoros

Lomé: Stade de Kégué

Nov. 18, 2019

Egypt (H)

0-0

Moroni: Stade Omnisports de Malouzini

Nov. 11, 2020

Kenya (A)

1-1

Kasarani: Moi International Sport Centre

Nov. 15, 2020

Kenya (H)

2-1 Comoros

Moroni: Stade Omnisports de Malouzini

Mar. 25, 2021

Togo (H)

0-0

Moroni: Stade Omnisports de Malouzini

Mar. 29, 2021

Egypt

4-0 Egypt

Cairo: Cairo International Stadium

A Scoreless Draw Worth Remembering

Appendix

© 2021 Antonio Martinez

Related Articles