- Mexer is a mainstay of Mozambique’s national team
- One of the few Mambas still playing to have featured at the AFCON
- The defender has also spent many years in French football
It has now been ten years since Mozambique last appeared at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, when the qualifying competition also doubled up as the preliminaries for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Though the Mambas missed out on a place at the world finals, they sprang a surprise by taking points off Nigeria and Tunisia to earn a ticket to the continental finals for the first time in 12 years.
It was quite an achievement for the Mambas and was inspired by Manuel Jose Luis Bucuane, better known as Tico-Tico, a legend of Mozambican football and the national team’s all-time top goalscorer. From his shadow emerged a talented young defender by the name of Edson Andre Sitoe. Born in the capital, Maputo, in 1988, he has built on the early promise he showed to become a mainstay of the national team. More commonly known by his nickname Mexer (‘The Restless One’), he is one of the few members of the current line-up who featured at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.
“When you experience highs like that, it makes it you feel even more sad that we’ve gone the last ten years without tasting the joy of qualifying for a tournament again,” he told FIFA.com. “We’ve been through some tough times but we’ve now got lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the national team. Just as we had back then, we’ve got some quality youngsters who want to succeed and who are benefitting from playing in Europe, most of them in Portugal.”
Happy in France, a hero in Mozambique
Just as in 2010, the current Mozambique line-up boasts an iconic player of its own: Mexer. And while Tico-Tico played his best football for the national team, the central defender, who has won 50 caps and scored three goals for his country, has gained additional respect for having established himself in Europe, the promised land for every young Mozambican player.
After proving his worth in the Portuguese league with Olhanense and National, Mexer made his mark in France, impressing first of all with Rennes, where he won the Coupe de France in 2019, and then with Bordeaux last season.
“I’ve been in France for six years now and I feel as settled in the league as I do in the country itself,” he said in French with a Portuguese twang. “And if the experience I’m picking up in Europe can help Mozambique, then so much the better. That’s what our national team is lacking. Obviously the Mozambique fans expect a lot of me because I play in Europe, but I feel that brings me more support than pressure. I feel like there’s a lot of respect for me.”
Mexer is not someone to mess with on the pitch. Standing 6’1 (1.86m) tall, the rugged centre-half is quick and combative with it. Off it, however, he is an easy-going character who lets his emotions show when talk turns to his homeland: “Mozambique means so much to me,” he stressed. “The emotion never changes when you play for the national team. It’s special. It’s overwhelming.”
That is just as well given the imminent return of international football after it was put on hold by the Covid-19 pandemic. In Africa that means qualifying matches for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations and Qatar 2022, in two separate competitions.
Mozambique are well positioned in both of them, having kicked off their bid to reach the continental finals with a 2-0 win over Rwanda and beaten Mauritius 3-0 on aggregate in the first round of the Qatar 2022 preliminaries.
“Let’s be honest and accept that reaching the World Cup is a bit of a tall order for our country,” said Mexer of a qualification campaign in which the Mambas have now been drawn with Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Malawi in Group D. “It’s in our blood to give our all, though, and to believe that we can do it. You just never know.”
In his eyes, a place at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations is much more of a realistic goal for Mozambique, with the Mambas currently sitting top of a group that again features Cameroon, as well as Cabo Verde and Rwanda. “We’ve missed too many continental finals in the last few years and it’s time we made amends,” said Mozambique’s Mr Experience. “I get the sense that the wind is blowing in a different direction now. I’m optimistic.”