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Sixth minute, the moon has just fallen on their heads. After watching the video assistance to arbitration (VAR), the Ethiopian referee Bamlak Weyesa rushes towards Nadjim Abdou: red card. The captain of the Comoros must return to the locker room for having badly stepped on the ankle of a Cameroonian. Too many decisions. The Comorian bench is enraged, some players are thinking of leaving the lawn of Yaoundé. Nothing is right. The Cœlacanthes, nickname of the team which takes it from a fish with fleshy fins, have already arrived late at the Olembé stadium, forced to prepare in the bus which got stuck in traffic jams. They especially had to start, Monday, January 24, their round of 16 against Cameroon, host country of the African Cup of Nations (CAN), without… goalkeeper.
Indeed, two days earlier, the selection learned that twelve members of the workforce had been affected by the Covid, including some incumbents, coach Amir Abdou and – more problematically – the two remaining goalkeepers, Moyadh Ousseini and Ali Ahamada. Third goalkeeper Salim Ben Boina was injured in the previous round. But now, the day of the match, Ahamada is no longer positive. The Confederation of African Football (CAF), however, refuses to allow him to be aligned.
The body informs the team that positive players will have to isolate themselves for five days. Incomprehension. Because on January 17, the day before the third group match against Ghana (won 2-3), a holder tested positive, according to the coach, even though another sample, taken several hours before the match − negative this time −, allowed him to play against the Black Stars. Another question: the Comoros also wonder why Tunisia was able to « to have a waiver from CAF for Wahbi Khazri (entered into play on Sunday January 23 against Nigeria) less than five days after being tested positive ».
Intractable, CAF does not reconsider its decision. The Comoros will therefore have to face Cameroon without a real goalkeeper. This thankless task is entrusted to Chaker Alhadhur, defender at AC Ajaccio, in Ligue 2, who had to use tape to change the number of his shirt. « It was unprecedented, I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a situation like this in footballhe says with humor. I asked myself “But what am I doing here?” Then it happened naturally. »
Chaker defended his goals as if his life depended on it. Despite clumsy gestures, he did not hesitate to advance to 30 meters, transforming himself into a « flying goalie » « like for matches in the neighborhood », he lets go with a smile, to give rhythm to the recovery. He even made several high class saves. His partners have also delivered a very high level physical and mental performance to the point of destabilizing Cameroon.
The Lions stuck in front of a hysterical audience. Tens of thousands of fans came to watch the meeting, until the tragedy. In front of the stadium, a stampede that occurred in the evening left at least eight dead and thirty-seven injured. The sound of help arriving on the spot did not reach inside the enclosure where everyone was concentrated on the draft match of Cameroon, confused by the courage of his opponent. “I think Cameroon expected an easy game. When we take the red card after a few minutes, I say to myself “I am living a nightmare. They’re going to give us ten!” »launches Chaker Alhadhur.
Finally, Karl Toko-Ekambi (29th) and Vincent Aboubakar (70th) allowed their selection to take off. Even if, at the end of the game, the Cameroonian goalkeeper André Onana had to work to save his teammates from a probable shipwreck. The Comoros chained the strikes; Youssouf M’Changama reduced the score with a sublime free kick (81st), but it was already too late. Final score: 2-1.
“We denounce the lack of ethics”
End of the epic for the valiant Comoros, a name which in Arabic means “the islands of the Moon”. From Moroni, the capital of this archipelago (900,000 inhabitants) off the coast of Mozambique, to Marseille – where most of the Comorians of France live, some 100,000 people – this match was sacred. Indeed, the selection had managed to qualify in the eighth for their first participation in a CAN by finishing third in a strong group. « I’m very proud of them, they fought well, » welcomed Amir Abdou who had to remain in solitary confinement. It was his deputy Younès Zerdouk who took his place on the edge of the field. “I am more than satisfied, I cannot be sad”he claimed with a smile, happy that his team was able to show » values » and « the pleasure of being together » in the field.
Youssouf M’Changama, elected man of the match – and very upbeat – took advantage of his appearance in front of the press to address the institution of African football. “I want to send a little message to CAF: there are rules, but we are all in the Covid, there are adaptations everywhere, it is unacceptable that we do not adapt to our situation. Why weren’t they letting us get a guard? We denounce the lack of ethics « he argued even if he does not seek to “criminalize CAF or Cameroon”.
The Indomitable Lions, meanwhile, were not very happy with their » benefit « . “We did not show humility. I’m sad the way we playedrecognized André Onana. We passed, but we have to win with style. Playing against an opponent who finds himself at ten, with the quality we have, it’s a shame. » On January 29, Cameroonians will challenge Gambia, which is also participating in its first CAN.