FIFA Arab Cup 2021
- Djibouti has a date with Lebanon in qualifying for the Arab Cup
- Madhi Mahabeh will be their number 1 asset
- Aged 25, he is the top scorer in the history of the selection
Djibouti has long been swimming in troubled waters. If they managed to get their heads out of the water a little in 2006/07, the Sharks of the Red Sea were gently drawn to the bottom of the FIFA / Coca-Cola World Ranking… until 2016. The year when Madhi Mahabeh joined the selection. And since 2016, Djibouti is slowly rising to the surface.
“The reasons for our current success are multiple. In the foreground, there has been a real desire to revitalize national football”, explains Mahabeh at the microphone of FIFA.com. “Our federation has mobilized the financial, logistical, technical and human resources that the national team needed to flourish. It is in particular in this context that our coach Julien Mette arrived, and he is obviously no stranger to our progress. “
The facts are there: the team notably managed to pass the first round of qualifying for a FIFA World Cup for the second time in their history at the expense of Eswatini 2-1, which they beat 2- 1 on the first leg before picking up a draw on the return (0-0). In doing so, Djibouti avoided away defeat for the first time in World Cup preliminaries, after six straight losses away from home.
Mette and the new wind
These good performances combined with others, including a draw against Gambia in qualifying for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations and a victory against Burundi in the 2019 CECAFA Cup, allowed Djibouti to climb back up to 183rd place. of the FIFA / Coca-Cola World Ranking. A position that he had not occupied for 14 years and this famous enchanted parenthesis of the 2006/07 season.
“Julien Mette’s contribution was decisive. He gave the team a new lease of life, new working methods and a new system of play which favors the conservation of the ball. I think his methods are different from those of his colleagues in Africa and that in the medium and long term they can give encouraging results, ”Mahabeh analyzes.
History and goals scored
He would be too modest to talk about his own exploits. In less than five years, the 25-year-old striker, who still plays in the local championship under the jersey of Ali-Sabeh Djibouti Telecom, has nevertheless entered the legend of Djiboutian sport by becoming the top scorer in the history of the selection. He has six goals in 14 caps. “An idol? I don’t know… But it turns out that my compatriots in general and my supporters in particular rely on me a lot when I’m on the pitch,” he admits.
It must be said that the boy likes to score goals… and history! At the origin of the two goals against Eswatini in the first leg of the qualifiers for Qatar 2022 – he converted one of the two penalties he obtained himself – Mahabeh also scored both goals against in Burundi (2-1) in the CECAFA Cup. Never in its history has Djibouti won a match far from its bases.
“These memories, which are the best of my career, will remain indelible. Facing Eswatini, it was all the more beautiful as the stadium was overwhelming,” he recalls before returning to his victorious penalty: “I have to admit I felt great anguish before shooting! But once the nets quivered, everything was gone. The audience’s outburst of joy erased everything in one fell swoop!”
And to add: “The pressure exists. I cannot deny it. I have an immense responsibility towards my team-mates and the supporters. To assume it, I only know one solution: to give the best of myself ! “
Lebanon on the road to Qatar
Obviously, it will take the self-denial of Mahabeh and all Sharks this June 22 when it comes time to face Lebanon in a qualifying match for the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup. Cedars are 90 places above them in the FIFA Ranking and they approach the game with confidence, having secured their ticket to the third round of the Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup.
Mahabeh already sees him further: “I am calm and convinced that our team will be able, in the event of qualification, to win a few matches in Qatar”, he says before concluding: “The main thing is to win against the Lebanon, and to participate in this competition. This would allow us to generate what is a little lacking in our selection: experience. “