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.
Three nations debuted in the 2019 African Cup of Nations: 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 succeeded 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.
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, that 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 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 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.
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. 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 10-2 aggregate defeat was a cruel series that Comoros endured as the nation struggled internationally.
Lack of defense became a significant issue in Comoros' 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign. Comoros allowed 10 of its 14 goals away while dropping points that would have preserved draws. After losing 4-0 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 achieve a 1-1 draw against Libya 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 Comoros allowed Emmanuel Mayuka's 87th-minute goal to win Zambia 2-1.
One point was all Comoros achieved. The result was devastating as Comoros did not enter into the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Comoros only played two matches against Mauritius in the 2014 African Nations Championship.
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 sought 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.
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.
Comoros had one of its busier years as the nation had a new goalkeeper in 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 Comoros held Burkina Faso at bay for an hour. 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, including 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. With Ben Boina and excellent defending, Comoros scalped a scoreless shock d aw. Though it lost four days later in the second leg, Comoros had achieved something significant. Abdou laid a foundation.
One Historic Win
Mohamed M'Changama's goal in Maseru was remarkable, but Comoros's next goal sent shockwaves across Africa. This individual established a respective club career that included a stint in France's Ligue One.
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 Joel Mogrosi denied Comoros another famous result. Comoros held their own in a group that saw Burkina Faso and Uganda qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. despite the last-place finish
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 the Swedish club Östersunds FK that year, who played four years earlier 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 guided Östersunds FK to win its first club football appearance in 2016-17 Svenska Cupen. The achievement helped Östersunds FK upset Turkish giants Galatasary in Europa League qualifying as the Swedish club rode the momentum to a Round of 32 appearances in their maiden voyage.
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. Comoros advanced to the next round despite losing in the second leg eight days later.
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, including 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 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 later 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 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.
2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualification Results
Mar. 24, 2017
Mitasouli: Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh
Mar. 28, 2017
Belle Vue Maurel: Stade Anjalay
June 10, 2017
Blantyre: Kazumu Stadium
Sept. 8, 2018
Mitasouli: Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh
Oct. 13, 2018
Casablanca: Stade Mohamed V
Oct. 16, 2018
Mitasouli: Said Mohamed Cheikh
Nov. 17, 2018
Moroni: Stade de Moroni
Mar. 23, 2019
Yaoundé: Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo
Another Watershed Moment
Perhaps the most notable player Abdou recruited with Comoran roots once played for France at the 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 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 its region's best nations, including South Africa and Zambia. Comoros achieved its best performance in the COSAFA Cup, courtesy of its 2-1 victory against Mauritius.
Comoros endured early eliminations in two separate qualifying campaigns in the following months. Once again, Namibia 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. A 1-0 victory against Guinea was between these matches 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 Begins!
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.
The CAF postponed these qualifiers on Mar. 13, 2020, 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 2021, with the remaining qualifiers occurring in November 2020 and March 2021. Before returning to qualifying, Comoros played a friendly in Rades, Tunisia. Youssouf M'Changama scored a late goal to break a 1-1 draw to come back against Libya. Youssouf M'Changama scored a month later, with the goal being crucial because Comoros achieved a 1-1 draw in Kenya. Ben Nabouhane scored to become Comoros' first double-digit goalscorer in the return leg less than a week later.
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 one point from two games to achieve the qualification.
On Mar. 25, 2021, Comoros accomplished the dream against Togo. Another scoreless home draw meant Comoros qualified for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. With a population nearly equivalent to South Dakota, Comoros is the second smallest nation, second only to the Cape Verde Islands, to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Not even a 4-0 loss in Egypt could dampen the celebrations four days later. Comoros had achieved its long-awaited accomplishment of reaching a major tournament. The upward trajectory was the beginning.
With a trip to Cameroon assured come January 2022, Comoros hoped for another major tournament with a regional flavor. It had been 15 years since the nation participated in an Arab Cup qualifying match. With the tournament now under FIFA auspices and acting as the prelude to the 2022 World Cup, Comoros had a winner-take-all match against Palestine in Doha's Jassim bin Hamad Stadium. The reward would be three games in Qatar, against Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan (who qualified by walkover due to South Sudan having multiple positive COVID-19 tests upon arrival).
The Arab Cup qualifying opened the opportunity for new players to make a first impression. That included forward Moussa Djoumoi, a member of As Saint-Priest in France's fourth division, who marked his debut with the qualifying phase's earliest goal among the six matches. Nevertheless, the fifth-minute goal would be all for Comoros against a two-time Asian Cup participant.
Comoros had the heaviest defeat among the qualifiers, with Palestine winning 5-1. Still, Comoros had six months to prepare for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, and along the way, the nation won three consecutive matches. Ben Nabouhane recorded a hat trick, and the island nation had its most significant victory ever in a 7-1 victory against Seychelles. Two months later, Ben Habouhane scored both goals against fellow participants in Sierra Leone (its opponent having qualified after a 25-year absence) in a friendly in Sapanca, Turkey.
Ben Habouhane would be one of the 28 players to make the journey to Cameroon, which started in Yaounde against Gabon. Despite Gabon not having its striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Comoros had a costly defensive error that allowed Aaron Salem Boupendza to launch his shot past Ahamada Ali Nadhoim.
The 1-0 loss was tough, but Comoros was determined to prove another point against Morocco, whom the island nation played two noteworthy qualifying matches for the 2019 edition. Comoros made a goalkeeping switch with Salim Ben Boina as the goalkeeper, and for the second straight match, allowed an opening goal from Selim Amallah. Boina kept Comoros in the match at 1-0, and a penalty save of Youssef En-Nesyri nearly gave Comoros a chance at a valuable point. That was until Zakaria Aboukhlal dashed Comoran hopes and sent his nation into the knockout stages.
The Mother of All Upsets and an Amazing End
Despite the two losses, Comoros still had a chance, but four-time champions Ghana awaited them in Garoua. After all, Comoros had put Ghana on the rope before, and Ben Nabouhane, whose goals have been vital for the nation, etched his name in the history books. A successful counterattack allowed the Comoroan to record the nation's first goal at the Africa Cup of Nations. More hope came for Comoros when Ghana would play the remaining of the match with ten men. The red card issued to Andre Ayew came after a violent collision with Ben Boina meant that Ali Ahamada would finish the match as the goalkeeper.
Only a win would give Comoros a shot at survival, and an unlikely scorer put the nation on the precipice. A member of FC Annecy, midfielder Ahmed Mogni debuted in 2015 during a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Mogni would manage to work Ghana's defense, and after 62 minutes, his first goal had Comoros in dreamland.
Still, Ghana quickly recovered, and Richmond Boakye halved the deficit for Ghana. Ahamada made two crucial clearing attempts to keep the lead, but a Ghanaian set piece would prove successful as Alexander Djiku scored in the 77th minute. Ghana now had the upper hand, and hope was still alive.
Cue Mogni and his second goal in the 85th minute after a successful cutback from
Benjaloud Youssouf. The second goal put Comoros on the precipice again, and when the final whistle blew, Comoros did its part to stay alive. Comoros, a nation whose national team had players playing primarily in France's lower leagues, handed Ghana and the world a mother of all shocks and finished third in the group. Would the nation finish as one of the four best third-place nations and book a spot in the Round of 16?
Comoros needed four results in less than 48 hours. Amazingly, the four wins favored Comoros; in Group D, Nigeria defeated Guinea-Bissau and Egypt defeated Sudan. The next day Côte d'Ivoire knocked out the reigning continental champions, Algeria. Comoros celebrated a miracle after Equatorial Guinea defeated the closet challenger Sierra Leone for one of the four best third-place finishes.
Holding Their Heads Up High.
The reward would be a match with the tournament hosts in Cameroon. Unfortunately, Comoros had a goalkeeper crisis due to injury and positive COVID-19 tests, which had AC Ajaccio defender Chaker Alhadhur starting. Comoros would be down to 10 men early in the match as the nation faced the tournament's leading goalscorer Vincent Aboubakar.
Still, despite trailing 2-0, Comoros fought to the end, and a free-kick goal from Youssouf M'Changama in 78 minutes was one of the tournament's goals. The strike would be worthy of the goal of the match, but Cameroon held on, and the 2-1 result ended Comoros' maiden Africa Cup journey.
Just getting to the tournament was a significant shock for Comoros, especially for a nation whose players perform in France's lower leagues. Comoros began a quest for a second successive participation in the coming months following the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. With M'Changama leading the way, the nation began its 2023 AFCON qualification campaign, winning 2-0 against Lesotho. Four days later, a near shock against a former champion occurred, but Comoros lost 2-1 despite Ben Nabouhane's 13th-minute goal opening the scoring.
In 2021, Comoros defied the odds to make history and, in the process, left an indelible mark and an optimistic future for a nation searching for an identity. Dreams can come true, regardless of how long a nation has been playing.
Comoros' Road to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations
Nov. 15, 2019
Lomé: Stade de Kégué
Nov. 18, 2019
Moroni: Stade Omnisports de Malouzini
Nov. 11, 2020
Kasarani: Moi International Sport Centre
Nov. 15, 2020
Moroni: Stade Omnisports de Malouzini
Mar. 25, 2021
Moroni: Stade Omnisports de Malouzini
Mar. 29, 2021
Cairo: Cairo International Stadium
Jan. 10, 2022
Yaounde: Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo
Jan. 14, 2022
Yaounde: Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo
Jan. 18, 2022
Garoua: Stade Roumdé Adjia
Jan. 24, 2022
Yaounde: Olembe Stadium
A Scoreless Draw Worth Remembering
- Comoros stun Botswana's Zebras - 2017 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers - Botswana
Comoros stunned Botswana 1-0 in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier at the Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh in Mitsamiouli on Thursday.
- Can 2012: bilan des Cœlacanthes Rien un point | HabarizaComores.com | Toute l'actualité des Comores
French: The following is a review of Comoros' run to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nation, where the Indian archipelago notched only one point in the six qualifiers.
- Comoros eye Nations Cup on the back of European recruitment
With the kick off of the 2019 African Nations Cup qualifiers just weeks away, one of Africa's newest footballing countries believe they can qualify.
- An Epic Draw in France
Le stade Francis-Turcan de Martigues avait un parfum de fête en fin d'après-midi. Un match amical entre les équipes africaines des Comores et du Burkina Faso s'y est déroulé.
- Member Association - Comoros - News - FIFA.com
The latest footballing news from Comoros
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