Comoros made history in its debut appearance in the African Cup of Nations this year. Not only did it beat three-time World Cup finalist Ghana to reach the knockouts, but also threatened five-time AFCON Winner Cameroon with a tight contest without a goalkeeper.
Hours before its match against the Indomitable Lions, the team found itself without a full-time goalkeeper, its coach and two of its defenders – all down with either COVID-19 or injuries.
The only goalkeeper available was Ali Ahamada, who, despite recovering from coronavirus, was not allowed to join the team because of the quarantine rules of the tournament as per the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Jean-Daniel Padovani, who leads the goalkeeping staff at the Comoros National team told Sportstar that after deliberations, the team managed to field a player between the sticks – a full-back playing in the French second division named Chaker Alhadur.
“We started training on the eve of the match. I didn’t specifically teach him how to collect or dive – I left that to him. It was more important for me to teach him the tactical part - in terms of positioning. I like goalkeepers who are skilled with their feet and actively participate in the game – so he was a perfect choice for me,” Padovani said.
Comoros was reduced to 10-men within seven minutes of the match with defender Nadjim "Jimmy" Abdou sent off, but some brilliant saves by Alhadur limited the side to a 2-1 scoreline against the five-time AFCON winner.
“The Comoros players are professionals who are a bit amateurish but have a super fighting spirit. They really managed to draw the positives from the situation and showcase their values. We were indirectly in touch with the coach, who was instructing us from the bench. The situation served well to show that Comoros was a good team with good values,” Padovani added.
With an aim to qualify for the World Cup finals, Padovani feels the team can get there eventually. “There are still many countries with players who are technically more sound and playing at a higher level in Africa. But with the right means the team can get there,” he said.
The fourth-smallest country in Africa with a population of less than a million, Comoros, was recognised by FIFA in 2005. In 15 years, the team has wrestled through over 50 countries to get into the AFCON finals for the first time in its history.
Though it was eliminated after a narrow defeat, Comoros' campaign was a testimony of what the African Cup of Nations 2021 has been about – daring to hope beyond COVID-19 and being resilient enough to dream about a brighter future, the FIFA World Cup or otherwise.
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