One of the most difficult activities for human beings is to define and measure success. The answer cannot be the same for all national teams taking part in the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
If for the most renowned football countries like Algeria – who risk being eliminated in the first round – success equates to final triumph, for a rookie like the Comoros national team, success means being present at the party.
Regardless of the definition, every success implies a journey made up of daily actions and turning points. Those of the Comoros, whose national team was formed in 1979 and became a FIFA member only in 2005, were mainly two.
Comoros have defied the odds to place themselves on the verge of AFCON’s knockout stage
‘The first turning point was precisely in 2010,’ Nadjim ‘Jimmy’ Abdou, a former Millwall midfielder who played 290 games for The Lions, tells Sportsmail. ‘It was the first time that the Comoros had taken part in the AFCON qualifiers.’
There were only a few professional footballers back then. Many others joined later when the second turning point happened. ‘In 2014, when the coach Amir Abdou was appointed, new players were brought in,’ he continues.
‘That made the national team advance even further. Then, the experience we have got during the last couple of qualifiers gave us the strength and the hope of being able to go and look for the qualification. Being in this AFCON represents the result of the efforts we have all made in the previous ten years.’
Milwall legend and striker Jimmy Abdou is the country’s captain at the ripe old age of 37
Abdou tells Sportsmail that his time in England was hugely beneficial to his AFON journey
Last year, the Comoros finally found their place on the African football map and got a whole country excited about football. Not an easy thing in a nation where a lack of proper infrastructure and some other football issues hamper the development of the beautiful game.
In all the ‘moon’ islands – which is the literal meaning of ‘Comoros’ from the Arabic word ‘qamar’ – families struggle to consider football as a reliable source of work. Many of them still think that their kids wouldn’t be able to make a living out of it.
Sport doesn’t take precedence over school and religion. So children prefer to play in the street, in informal contexts, and usually start looking for clubs very late.
Sometimes parents try to get their children to give up football, but lately, thanks to the achievements accumulated by the national team, their vision is gradually changing.
For Abdou, who was born in Martigues, France, things went differently. ‘For me, playing for the Comoros national team means everything,’ he claimed. ‘Even though I was born in France, I feel Franco-Comorian. Most of my family still lives in Comoros, so I’m proud to be part of it.
Comoros need a win against the out-of-form Ghana to seal their place in the knockout round
‘For me, it has always been a dream to be able to represent my country.’
It’s an even more special feeling making his own debut in the best continental tournament at 37, and as the captain of the team. But he is not the oldest at this AFCON. Abdou is the same age as Cape Verde’s Marco Soares, Sierra Leone’s Kei Kamara and Ivory Coast’s Serey Dié.
‘As long as there is hope there is life,’ Abdou said. ‘I have always wanted to play in the AFCON one day. I was part of the Comoros team’s growth process, so being able to come full circle at 37 is a great joy and represents great pride. It also makes me think of all the sacrifices I made along the way.’
Abdou is still playing for his hometown team Martigues and doesn’t seem to be giving up. One of the experiences that taught him the value of sacrifice was certainly his move to England.
‘Playing there taught me to give 100% of myself every day,’ he revealed. ‘I was lucky enough to play in clubs where the concepts of combativeness and love for the shirt were very developed.’
Unfortunately, Comorian national television does not have the rights to show AFCON this year
He spent a season at both Plymouth Argyle and AFC Wimbledon and 10 years at Millwall, a club that warms his heart because he played there for almost his entire career.
Millwall is the place where he managed to express himself best, and fans at the Den will always have fond memories of ‘Jimmy’. He claimed a piece of Millwall history when he scored the winning goal against Leeds United in the 2008-2009 League One play-off semi-finals, ensuring the club’s first appearance in a play-off final.
‘I was in Millwall when I was called up by the Comoros for the first time. I was there when my journey with the national team continued, and they have always encouraged me. So I think that the people from Millwall who were with me and shared this journey with me will also be proud of me.’
Unfortunately, the Comorian national television hasn’t acquired the rights to broadcast the historic matches of the Comoros national team that are taking place in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
It is hoped that the national team’s displays can inspire a new generation of stars (pictured: midfielder Mohamed Youssouf)
This is a great pity for all the Comorian people living in the country who have to rely on foreign televisions to be able to admire their idols, who can remarkably still qualify for the knockout stages of this year’s AFCON.
Despite their opening two defeats, an expanded competition means four of the six third-placed teams will go through and if Comoros can beat an out-of-form Ghana on Tuesday night, qualification could well be on the cards.
At home in Comoros, no TV rights means fans aren’t listening to the popular voice of Kassim Oumouri, the iconic Comorian commentator who went crazy at the final whistle of Comore-Togo back in March 2021, when the Coelacanths secured their qualification.
But if they go ahead in the tournament, and Ortc, the Comoros radio and television office, reach an agreement to buy the rights, there might be other opportunities to hear Oumouri’s voice.
‘We have to do better than we did yesterday,’ stressed Abdou. ‘Yesterday, the goal was to qualify for the Afcon and we achieved it. Today, we will have to go further with the same mentality.’