“You don’t always need star players to succeed. If you’ve got a healthy and hard-working group of players and don’t have any problems with egos, then you can get the same results as any dream team.”
The words are those of Comoros coach Amir Abdou from October 2020, and they took on new meaning a few months later when he oversaw the country’s historic maiden qualification for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Cameroon 2021. Now, as the Coelacanths prepare to take on Palestine for a place at the FIFA Arab Cup 2021™, they could resonate again.
For this Thursday’s showdown in Doha, Amir Abdou, who will be represented by his assistant Younes Zerdouk, has called up six new players from across the local leagues and the lower divisions of Europe’s championships. Among their number is Haym Ibrahim, a defender on the books of Evian-Thonon of the Championnat National 3, France’s fifth division.
“More than surprised, I was overjoyed and immensely proud to be called into the squad,” he told FIFA.com. “It moved me all the more because, like many others, I’ve found these past two years extremely difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Pulling on the jersey and participating in this kind of competition has always been a hope, even a dream, of mine. The idea has always been in the back of my mind and I never stopped striving for it. It’s often said that things can happen very quickly in football, and on this occasion, things are heading in the right direction for me.”
‘In football, anything is possible’ is another adage you hear a lot in the game, and this is precisely what Comoros, an archipelago of some one million inhabitants, has been trying to prove in recent times. Until six years ago, the country was languishing around 200th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Now they are 131st and took part in an AFCON tournament for the first time this year.
“I’ve obviously been closely monitoring all the team’s achievements,” said Ibrahim. “Whether from near or far, we always want to accompany the Coelacanths.
“For example, I watched the Togo game in which we secured our CAN qualification while on a train. And it was as if I was on the pitch too: the pressure, the pounding heart, the excitement. I was neither a player, nor a fan, nor a spectator – just a Comorian who wanted to see his country make history.”
Today it is as an international fullback that Haym Ibrahim is preparing to defend his country’s colours in Qatar. And despite playing in the fifth tier of French football, the 23-year-old knows he is not in the squad by chance.
“For years the staff have been doing a great job at closely monitoring players who could potentially be part of the national team,” said Ibrahim. “Then depending on the tournament and what’s at stake, new players are given a chance.
“They do so happily and fairly, while maintaining natural competition for places. However, you need to be aware that it’s not some kind of gift, but rather something earned through good performances.”
And who says international status brings notoriety? No sooner had news of his call-up come out than the player’s phone was bombarded with messages: “I was very popular and got many messages of encouragement and congratulations,” said Ibrahim. “Enthusiasm for the team and its exploits has been growing on the archipelago, so to be able to feel all that is a great joy. And it gives you a real lift and makes us want to give joy in return.”
It goes without saying that a victory over Palestine and qualification for this year’s Arab Cup would do just that. “We’ve been through such a hard time in recent months, so it’d be great if we could bring a little happiness through football,” he said. “Our big brothers have qualified for the AFCON and shown us the way. It’s now up to us to emulate them.”