Comoros, Cameroon and the curious tale of no goalkeepers

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

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While the fairytale story of Comoros’s journey to the knockout stages of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations will some day make an inspirational feel-good movie, one suspects Disney’s scriptwriters will have to leave out some of the finer details on the grounds that audiences may find them just a little bit too far-fetched.

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Hailing from a financially impoverished archipelago with a population of less than one million people located off the east coast of the continent, Les Coelacantes pulled off something of a miracle in merely qualifying for Afcon but certainly weren’t expected to make it this far. Two defeats in their opening group games with a match against Ghana to come meant a predictably early exit was assured, until the plucky journeymen of Comoros went all supernova on the Black Stars, beating them 3-2 in one of the greatest upsets in African football history.

After several days of what must have seemed an interminable wait, Amir Abdou and his players learned they had not only done enough to book a spot in the last 16, but would be pitted against their hosts Cameroon. A nation many millions outside the continent had never heard of as recently as a fortnight ago suddenly became many people’s favourite African team.

So far, so Cool Runnings or Mighty Ducks … but then things started to get a little implausible. Over the weekend it was revealed that Comoros would be forced to play one of their outfield players in goal against Cameroon tonight after first choice in net, Salim Ben Boina, was injured and his understudies Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini tested positive for Covid-19. With tournament rules stating that teams must fulfil their fixtures if they have 11 fit players, Comoros accepted their fate.

“We have already chosen an outfield player who will start as a goalkeeper,” said their goalkeeping coach, Jean-Daniel Padovani, who we can only assume had an extremely busy weekend. Without revealing the identity of the poor sod being askedto emulate Hatch in Escape to Victory, he assured fans that “he is a player who, during training, showed that he could play as a goalkeeper”.

Fast forward to Monday morning, when it emerged that actual Comoros goalkeeper Ahamada had tested negative for Covid and the subsequent announcement that he would in fact be able to play. Then fast forward a little further to Monday afternoon and the slightly more subsequent announcement from the tournament organisers that, er … actually, no, he won’t. Despite the good news about Ahamada’s test being negative, blazered tournament organisers were quick to point out that Caf rules state a player who tests positive for coronavirus must isolate for five days before taking another PCR test 48 hours before his side’s next match, and therefore Ahamada’s negative was not the positive he and his compatriots originally thought.

With several other players and their manager also ruled out of tonight’s game through injury or Covid, Comoros may well ship the mother of all hidings from Cameroon. But whatever the outcome at the Olembe Stadium – and let’s not rule out the possibility of the greatest upset in the history of international football – here’s hoping they leave the pitch with dignity intact and their heads held high.


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