- Somalia won their first FIFA World Cup qualifying match in September 2019
- That victory over Zimbabwe was not sufficient to reach the next round
- It did, however, have a huge impact, according to defender Mohamud Ali
“Don’t quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion,” said boxing legend Muhammad Ali. One of Somali’s defenders, who created a little bit of footballing history by contributing to his country’s first-ever FIFA World Cup™ qualifying victory (1-0 versus Zimbabwe in September 2019), has made that line his personal motto. His name? Mohamud Ali.
“It’s obviously quite a unique name, but I’m very proud of it,” the player in question told FIFA.com. “He’s a sporting icon. Of course, people have often made jokes about my name, but overall it’s not been too tough to bear – I would never compare myself to such a legend anyway. And our two sports are very different. That said, I’m a winner, just like Muhammad Ali. A winning attitude is part of my DNA.”
Icing on the cake
The 26-year-old centre-back proved exactly that around a year ago, with the eyes of Africa on him and his team. Impressive throughout the historic triumph over Zimbabwe, Ali, who has earned seven caps so far, was one of the Ocean Stars’ best players on the day, and was deservedly named Man of the Match.
“I don’t know if it’s the best performance I’ve ever put in, but it’s definitely the best result I’ve ever been involved in!” he recalled. “The atmosphere, the stakes, the intensity: I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about it, because I’d never experienced anything quite like it. I didn’t play too badly, but it was a team effort, really. Honestly, all I remember is the win. My Man-of-the-Match award was just a bonus.”
Representing my country in a World Cup qualifying campaign was already fantastic. Winning a match was absolutely incredible!
Somalia did not sit on their laurels after this landmark success. In the second leg, in Harare, they had a Zimbabwe team that was placed 111th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking – 85 spots higher than the Somalis – against the ropes for most of the match, but their hopes of advancing to the second round of qualifying for Qatar 2022 were dealt a knockout blow in the final 13 minutes, and they would eventually bow out 3-2 on aggregate.
“On paper, there was a big gulf between Somalia and Zimbabwe,” said Ali. “But we competed with them and pushed them right up until stoppage time of the second leg. It was obviously disappointing that we didn’t get through to the next round, but we were proud of ourselves. We fought hard.”
Did you know?
- The captain of the Somali national team is none other than Ahmed Ali, Mohamud’s brother. “He’s my role model,” he said. “Enjoying all that alongside him made the experience even more incredible.”
- A semi-professional footballer, Mohamud also works as a driving instructor.
- Born in the Netherlands, Ali has spent the majority of his football career in England. He currently plays for sixth-tier outfit Southport FC.
Triumph and hope
Having never qualified for a major tournament, Somalia could not be described as one of the football world’s powerhouses, but the country, which has struggled to get back on its feet after enduring a long civil war that began in the 1990s, will likely content itself with this memorable win for now.
“A win like that brings people together and creates joy,” explained the defender. “It had a massive impact – the whole country was talking about it. Somalia is a football country; the fans are passionate about it. By force of circumstances, the beautiful game has had to take a back seat. But this victory augurs well for the future!
“The potential is huge, but that unfortunately can’t be reflected in the FIFA World Ranking. But our objective is to organise more matches, and to increase our global standing. We’re in the early stages of a process that began with the win over Zimbabwe. I really think that it will open the door to the next generation. And maybe one day we’ll take part in the Africa Cup of Nations!”
As his namesake Muhammad Ali once said, “The man who has no imagination has no wings.”