Afcon 2021: 'Valiant' Comoros face unique challenge against Cameroon

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Ali Ahamada and Salim Ben Boina in action for ComorosAli Ahamada and Salim Ben Boina have both featured for Comoros at the Nations Cup, but neither are available for their last 16 match

The success of Comoros at the Africa Cup of Nations has not come from chance or coincidence - but the squad go into the biggest game in the country's history with an unexpected handicap.

The Indian Ocean nation of under one million inhabitants created a sensation by eliminating Ghana in the group stage, setting up a last 16 tie against hosts Cameroon.

Already underdogs, ranked 82 places below the Indomitable Lions at 132nd in the world, Comoros have no recognised goalkeeper for Monday's game in Yaounde (19:00 GMT) because of Covid-19 and injury.

But Comoros sports minister Dr Takiddine Youssouf has praised the side's ethos and belief to get this far on their tournament debut.

"I congratulate and encourage all the players whom I describe as valiant soldiers for the colossal work they are doing to make us proud," Dr Youssouf told BBC Sport Africa

"It is the result of a collective work from the highest level of the state through the team spirit of the players, the supervision of the technical staff, the support of Comorian citizens both the locals and the diaspora.

"On the side of the Comorian government there is the personal, symbolic and significant involvement of [President] Azali Assoumani, who deploys all the financial means in order to have the expected results."

Diaspora delivers elusive qualification

Comoros celebrate their win against GhanaAhmed Mogni scored twice to help fire Comoros to a historic 3-2 win over Ghana

Regularly beaten by large scores and languishing 193rd in the Fifa rankings in 2014, the Comoros football federation (FFC) decided to take the bull by the horns in 2014 and appointed Franco-Comorian Amir Abdou as head coach.

After defeat by Kenya in the second round of qualifying for the 2015 Nations Cup, Comoros redoubled their efforts and secured their first-ever qualifying win against Botswana in March 2016.

With a squad boosted by members of the country's diaspora, the Coelacanthes saw off Kenya and Togo to reach this year's tournament in Cameroon, and are five spots shy of their best-ever ranking achieved in October 2017.

"The FFC crisscrossed France to identify Comorian players in French clubs and in Europe in order to form a group to participate in international events," Dr Youssouf said.

Having beaten Ghana last Tuesday - an upset which sparked celebrations among the squad and back in Comoros' capital Moroni - Abdou's side face another continental heavyweight.

"The task is not easy given the Indomitable Lions, one of the great countries of Africa renowned in football and is the host country, impressive football both technically, on the physical level and individual talents," Dr Youssouf added.

"This does not prevent us from redoubling our efforts, to bet on the state of mind of the players and the collective."

No goalkeeper 'comical' for Comoros

Comoros now face having to put an outfield player in goal against Cameroon, with all three goalkeepers unavailable for the match in the Olembe Stadium which will feature a partisan home crowd.

Salim Ben Boina was injured in the win over Ghana, while understudy Ali Ahamada and third-choice keeper Moyadh Ousseini have tested positive for Covid-19.

To compound issues, coach Abdou also has the virus and is expected to be missing from the dugout on Monday.

"It's a bit comical but we remobilised," goalkeeping coach Jean-Daniel Padovani said.

"We have to get together and keep doing our jobs and find the best possible solution. Now we are going to fight we our values and everything that brought us here."

Squad captain Nadjim 'Jimmy' Abdou added: "The hardest part is yet to come. We continue to move forward, and we will see where we will stop."

Comoros goalkeeping coach Jean-Daniel PadovaniComoros goalkeeping coach Jean-Daniel Padovani could be a busy - and nervous - man on the side lines against Cameroon on Monday
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