12 Dec 2019 in Interviews
September 5th, 2019 is a date that will live in footballing history for the nation of Somalia.
A 1-0 Victory over Zimbabwe in the first leg in round one of the African FIFA World Cup qualifying process gave them their first qualifying win in 35 years and their first win of any kind in 10 years.
Named man of the match and at the heart of the triumph was the Nash’s own Mohamud Ali.
Heartbreak was to follow as Zimbabwe struck two late goals in Tuesday’s second leg to eliminate Somalia in the cruellest of manners. But for a nation so troubled by domestic issues and still in the midst of a civil war, that first victory was more meaningful than most.
Ali spoke to the Curzon Ashton media team in the build up to Tuesday’s second leg having just completed a double training session in Zimbabwe’s 60,000 capacity national stadium in the nation’s capital of Harare.
“It’s been very hectic since the game. We’ve had a lot of travel to Zimbabwe for the next game and not much sleep, so I haven’t had too much time to reflect on it yet,” he said.
“No matter what happens tomorrow we’ve already written history. That game is something that will be remembered by generations, something that our kids and their kids after that will know about.
“It was quite an even game, they had chances and so did we. Zimbabwe were the highest ranked team we could have drawn at this stage of the qualification, but we could tell they were underestimating us.
“We were training in Djibouti [where the first leg was held] for a few days but they only arrived the night before the game. We could tell from the way they were acting that they weren’t taking us seriously. That just gave us extra motivation to go out and win.”
This was the second time Ali has been involved with the Somalia national side having also been a part of the last World Cup qualifying side four years ago and he says his experience there was a benefit this time around.
“I knew what to expect this time around and it makes you feel more relaxed. The Federation has been monitoring me since I was in the squad four years ago, so I knew there was a chance I’d be called up again. They have a guy who works in London and he got in touch with me and everything was finalised about a week before the game.
“I played in the King’s Lynn game for Curzon and then had to travel out pretty much straight away. Playing at this level for Curzon has definitely helped me get noticed and be better able to help Somalia.
“Everyone knows playing in England is a big deal and the National League North is a decent standard. The gaffer was delighted for me when I told him the news and everyone at Curzon’s been fantastic about it.”
The first leg – Somalia’s “home” game – had to be played in Djibouti because of security concerns. In a quirky twist of fate, Ali – who was born in the Netherlands to Somali parents – has never actually visited his footballing nation.
“It is kind of funny that I’ve never been to Somalia before. I hope I can go in the future. If we can stage a game there it would be massive. Everyone in the country loves football and we would get a great support if it happened.
“People are working behind the scenes to try and make it happen, but I don’t know how much of a possibility it is.
Unsurprisingly for a team ranked 202nd in the world – the joint-lowest in Africa and 90 places behind Zimbabwe – much has been made of the shock nature of the 1st leg win. Their last victory came over Tanzania in January 2009, playing 27 games since then without success and losing the last 18. So, did Ali even think victory was possible?
“I did think we could do it. The way the federation has treated this game has been much different and better than previous years.
“I played four years ago, but most games we play is made up of players who actually play in Somalia. This time they’ve scouted for players from all around the world, so the quality of the squad now isn’t really reflected by the results in the last few years. That didn’t affect us at all.”
While a fairytale progression to the group stage of qualification couldn’t be completed, Ali and his fellow countrymen – who include his brother Ahmed – have ensured their names will be remembered forever.