Comoros eye Nations Cup on the back of European recruitment
With the kick off of the 2019 African Nations Cup qualifiers just weeks away, one of Africa's newest footballing countries are confident they can make a breakthrough and qualify for the finals for the first time.
The Comoros Islands, who only became a member of the Confederation of African Football some 12 years ago, have set their sights on reaching the finals in Cameroon after they disposed of Mauritius in the qualifying round in March.
Coach Amir Abdou has been cleverly growing the size and competency of his selection pool since taking the job in January 2014, looking extensively to the expatriate community in Europe and convincing players of Comorian descent to throw in their lot with the national team.
He now has 15 European-based professionals from clubs in countries as widespread as Belgium, England, France, Greece, Spain, Sweden and Turkey available for selection, and is seeking a winning start to the campaign in Malawi next month.
"I have a homogeneous squad that has been formed since 2014 and is growing steadily," Abdou told KweséESPN. "The team is getting better with time.
"Our squad is quite young but does not lack quality. Our selection is constantly increasing and this is due especially to players who play in the European league. There is quality in the Comoros but our expatriates certainly bring added value.
"On the other hand, there is work that has the Comorian federation must still do. I think we can make much progress but we will have to inject more financial resources.
"I have to establish my credibility in order to gain the support of the pros who play in major European league but they have become believers in our project as they have seen our improving performance."
Abdou will name his latest squad in the next weeks for the opening Group B qualifier against Malawi, away on June 10, but is likely to include the likes of captain Nadjim Abdou from London club Millwall, goalkeeper Ali Ahamada (Kayserispor, Turkey) and Belgium-based striker Djamel Bakar (Sporting Charleroi).
"Our objective is to qualify for the 2019 African Nations Cup," added team manager Ben Amir Saadi. "We do not plan to just make up the numbers. We have ambitions and we hope to display that in the qualifiers."
Morocco and Cameroon are also in the Comoros's group, although results against the latter, who are hosts and therefore already qualified, won't count.
Only the group winners will advance to the tournament, which is scheduled to begin on January 12 2019.
"Of course we are aware we are not favourites in the group with holders Cameroon and Morocco, one of the best teams on the continent," Saadi added, "but with football everything is possible and this is the beauty of sport."