A first glimpse of the African sides playing at the CONIFA World Football Cup was available at the Media Day in London yesterday.
Le Chic Foot D’Afrique was on hand to cover all of the press conference as well as interviewing members of the three African sides. You can read all about those later on today.
As host nation, Barawa’s manager Abdikarim Farah and captain, Omar Sufi were on duty to field questions from the assembled press, which included Sky Sports, CNN, and other bloggers such as the Terrace Traveller.
According to CONIFA General Secretary Sascha Düerkop, a few sellouts of anticipated matches are expected, with averages of around 500-1500 predicted.
One of the matches that is likely to sell-out is host nation Barawa’s debut against Tamil Eelam.
When asked about being the host nation, and the feelings attached with it, Farah stated that:
“We were all raised and grew up in London, so we see ourselves as Londoners, coming originally from Somalia. Being a part of the hosting committee has been a privilege.”
“[It’s a privilege] to host it in our home-town, what we see as the most diverse city in the world.”
His sentiments were shared by his captain, Omar Sufi.
“In terms of what it feels like to be captaining my home nation, it’s an absolute honour for me. I sit down and tell my nieces and nephews about the experiences I’ve been having, and it is an absolute honour to lead my country out.”
Barawa is a southern part of Somalia, a country that has two other “International” teams – Somalia, a FIFA member, and Somaliland, a CONIFA member that did not qualify for this year’s edition.
International awareness of Barawa pales slightly in comparison to Somaliland, but recently, headlines were made after a bombing in Barawa during a football match.
Farah was on hand to explain the finer details of the situation in Barawa, as well as the purpose of the national team.
“Our ultimate aim is to raise awareness. Before the tournament, before we even joined CONIFA, there wasn’t much awareness. The South-west of Somalia, where Barawa is located, has had much deprivation, terrorism – always in the media for the wrong reasons.”
“The footballing community here is a large community, so to be a part of it, to tell our story, to play our football, is a real honour.”
Barawa’s 25-man squad is packed with lower-league talents, and Farah stated it was a tough ask witiling down the available pool of players for his tournament squad.
“It’s been quite challenging. We’ve gone through a process over about 18 months. We’ve gone through all of our 100 players. The majority of them are within London or the M25 area.”
“We were hoping a few might come over from North America, because the diaspora is quite large – it’s mainly in North America and the UK.”
“But a few of them are quite fortunate – a few of them went to school together, so they are quite close.”
“But we have a young squad, hopefully growing into this process. So, we’re looking much further a field, into the future.”
“When we started this process, we were given a baptism of fire about the level of quality. We’ve learnt a lot – particularly since February, we’ve had four or five matches, and each time we are learning something new about ourselves, about the level that’s required.”
“Our ultimate expectation is to finish in the top two of the group stage, get to that quarter final, and then we take it from there. It’s one game at a time after that.”
With a fixture-heavy tournament, where sides will play six games in ten days, there will be concerns about teams burning out- something Farah has very much considered.
“It’s going to require the whole squad. We’re quite confident on our starting line-up, but when you look at the bench and the rest of the squad, that’s where it’s going to be challenging for us – the opening three games in four days, and especially the Saturday-Sunday games, the back to back games.”
“We will have to rotate the team accordingly. We will find it challenging, but so will all the teams here.”
A majority of the Barawa squad are practicing Muslims, meaning they will be following Ramadan – which prohibits eating or drinking whilst the sun is still up.
“It’s the month of Ramadan for us, so a lot of the players will be fasting, so that again adds to the additional challenge for us, but, we will overcome that.”
Throughout the conference a few interesting stories emerged – including CONIFA’s intended expansion plans. Whilst there currently is only the World Football Cup and a European tournament, CONIFA President Per-Anders Blind revealed intentions to being competitions in every continent – including Africa.
Currently, there are eight African members of CONIFA – Barawa, Matabeleland, Kabiliya (all at this year’s tournament), Western Sahara, Somaliland, Zanzibar, Darfur, and Barotseland.
However, it remains to be seen how feasible a continent wide tournament would be, due to the costs involved.
Another innovation is the addition of a “Green Card” – awarded when a player is guilty of simulation or dissent. Running independently of Yellows and Reds, a green card will force a player to be substituted after committing an offence.
Despite managing a few loose-lipped players, Farah is in support of the new rule.
“I think that’s where the balance is – the fact that there is four subs you can use. We looked into the rules, and we went through it over and over with our players, because we do unfortunately have a few players that do like to talk on the pitch!”
“We’ve warned them – you talk back, you’re off!”
“I think it’s a great rule. Hopefully, based on the tournament that is something that can be taken forward.”
You can hear more from both Abdikarim Farah and Omar Sufi prior to the opener tomorrow.