Hope springs eternal as Somalia hope to revive 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifying campaign

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Somalia's Ocean Stars and Mozambique face off from 4PM EAT

Mozambique will be home away from home for the Somalia national football team during this phase of the CAF region 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier matches as the Ocean Stars prepare to tackle Mozambique and Botswana in Matchday 3 and Matchday 4 fixtures, respectively.

The Mambas of Mozambique will play the first of those two matches today at the Estadio do Zimpeto, a 42,000-capacity stadium on the outskirts of Maputo that opened in 2011. Somalia will host its match against Botswana at the same venue three days later, on Monday, June 10, 2024. The match against Botswana's Zebras will also commence at 4 p.m.

This phase of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers presents a good chance for Somalia to redeem itself, as, along with Mozambique (110) and Botswana (146), the three countries are the lowest-ranked Group G teams in the FIFA Rankings.

Currently ranked 199th, Somalia has already faced the highest-ranked teams in the group, Algeria (43) and Uganda (92). In matches played in Algeria and Morocco in November last year, Somalia lost 3-1 away to Algeria and 1-0 at home to Uganda. The other team in the group, Guinea, ranked 76th, will play Somalia in March 2025.

Today’s encounter will be Somalia’s first ever meeting with Mozambique. The match will also be the 16th FIFA World Cup qualifier match that Somalia has played in the history of its national football team, a fact that confirms the team’s inexperience in these types of matches. The previous FIFA World Cup qualifier formats, which featured preliminary elimination rounds matches and Somalia never advanced past them in their seven previous attempts to qualify for the FIFA World Cup (1982, 2000, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, and 2018), are primarily responsible for this inexperience.

With the FIFA World Cup expanding from 32 to 48 teams and the CAF region guaranteeing nine direct qualification slots and another slot through inter-confederation play-offs, the qualifying format has changed, and low-ranked teams no longer have to contest preliminary elimination round matches to qualify for the Round Robin stage of the qualifiers. In the new format, all teams enter the qualifiers at the Round Robin, and this means that Somalia will get to play in the qualifiers longer than in previous years, a fact that has excited Ocean Stars fans as the team will now have a chance to develop and progress by playing competitive matches more often.

Going into this afternoon's FIFA World Cup qualifier match, Somalia's recent form and record are concerning. Somalia has not won a competitive match since defeating Burundi 1-0 at the 2019 CECAFA Cup championship and is now on a run of 14 matches without a win, 11 losses, and three draws. Their form in their last 15 matches mirrors their record in FIFA World Cup qualifiers: one win (1-0 vs. Zimbabwe in September 2019), three draws, and 11 losses. On the other hand, Mozambique impressed at AFCON 2024, where they held Egypt and Ghana to 2-2 draws and have only lost to Cape Verde (3-0 at AFCON 2024), Algeria (2-0 in 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers), and Nigeria (3-2 in an international friendly). Ocean Stars expect them to be a tough test, but Somalia, if well-organized, can hold its own against them.

However, despite losing the encounter against the southern Africans 5-2 on aggregate, the team's last outing, a 2-2 draw away to eSwatini in the second leg of the AFCON 2025 Preliminary Round qualifying match, was a testament to the team's improvement in recent years.

In recent years, Somalia has benefited from a legion of foreign-born or foreign-based players who continue to significantly boost the team. The current squad that is expected to face Mozambique has several such players, some who have become stalwarts in the team, like Abdi Salim and Zakariya Nur, and some exciting debutants, like Handwalla Bwana, Mohamed Omar, and Saeed Aleeley Sheikh. Born in Kenya, Bwana, a midfielder, and Sheikh, a goalkeeper, relocated to the US during their childhood. Sheikh has played for several local clubs and is currently on loan from Bandari to FKF NSL side Mombasa Stars.

“I am grateful to Allah for this opportunity to play for the Somali national football team. I am ready to do my part when called upon. "The qualifiers are not over yet, so we cannot lose hope yet," Aleeley told The Eastleigh Voice in a recent interview about his first call-up to the Somalia national football team.

Their coach, Moroccan Rachid Lousteque, has been with the team since July 2022 and is the team’s longest reigning coach in their recent history, a stabilising factor that hints to Somalia being keen on laying a strong foundation for future success.

The Somalia Football Federation, despite the results not being encouraging at the moment, has shown keen interest in the team’s development by investing in their camping and training facilities. Due to Somalia's inability to host matches in their own country, the team's operating expenses have increased as they must train and prepare for their home matches in foreign countries.

With Group G still open, there is hope that Somalia can revive its campaign with wins over Mozambique and Botswana. All teams in the group have lost at least once, with Algeria and Guinea leading the group with six points, while Botswana, Uganda, and Mozambique follow in 3rd, 4th, and 5th place, respectively, with 3 points each. Somalia is at the bottom of the group, with three points.

The group winner will qualify automatically for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, while the second-placed team will have a chance to contest for an opportunity to feature in the inter-confederation play-offs if they are among the four best-placed second-placed teams.

In the group’s other matches during this phase of the qualifiers, Guinea blew the group wide open with a stunning 2-1 win away to Algeria on Thursday. Today at 7 p.m., Uganda and Botswana will play a match in Kampala.

On Monday, all teams will be in action as Guinea hosts Mozambique in Morocco, Somalia hosts Botswana in Mozambique, and Uganda hosts Algeria in Kampala.

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