A footballer from Vantaa has been playing in the international spotlight this week as his team chased a seemingly impossible dream to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
This week the Ocean Stars were in action against Zimbabwe, and stunned the highest ranked team in the preliminary round with a 1-0 victory in their opening match. The win was all the more remarkable as Somalia are Africa’s lowest ranked team, all the way down at number 202 in the FIFA standings.
“My mum was very happy, and also my family was very happy for me to get selected for the national team here. My friends and my club were very happy too” says Said Ahmed in a phone call from the Zimbabwean capital Harare.
Tuesday night was a crunch match for both teams, the winner guaranteed to move on to the group stages of African qualification.
Somalia played a strong game but in the final minutes, with Somalia just seconds from going through, a Zimbabwe player put the ball in the back of the net and the home team won 3-2 on aggregate.
“The game was good and Zimbabwe have a good team and we played well, but this is football you know. Everything can happen. So they scored the winning goal in the last minute and now we have to just go forward” Said Ahmed tells News Now Finland.
“I played two whole games and I am very happy to make my debut to the World Cup qualifiers. We won the first game and now we lost but it was so close, and I think we are coming back stronger next time” says the defender.
Somalia’s home game disadvantage
A first leg victory over Zimbabwe – who had to call up some of their star players from the South African league to bolster their squad for the second leg – was all the more remarkable for Somalia, because they had never before won a World Cup qualifying match, and because they’re not allowed to play home games.
“Somalia hasn’t played a competitive game at home in more than 30 years because of the security situation and there was no proper league football in the country for more than 20 years. So to beat a team like Zimbabwe in the first leg of the World Cup qualifiers shows great promise for Somali football” says Gerald Imray, a Zimbabwean sports journalist based in Johannesburg.
“There will be heartbreak at how close they came to winning the tie but you have to hope that this is something the country can build on” he adds.
For the time being Somalia plays home games in neighbouring Djibouti, but Said Ahmed says he hopes the team can one day play in Mogadishu again, in front of home town fans.
Sports journalist Gerald Imray agrees that it’s good to have aspirations to play in the World Cup, but says Somali football should be focusing on other priorities in the short term.
“As much as it’s a fabulous dream to have, the World Cup shouldn’t be the target for Somalia right now. The priority should be building the league setup in Somalia and getting the national team playing regularly at home in front of its own fans, in stadiums that are safe and secure” he tells News Now Finland.
Football dreams in Finnish teams
Ahmed Said Ahmed came to Finland with his family in 2008, and lived in Joensuu where he first got involved with a youth team at a local club.
Later, the family moved to Espoo and Vantaa where Said Ahmed made his Veikkausliiga debut for PK-35 – before the club went bankrupt – at the age of 17.
“I kept playing football, and now I’m a professional player and I’m living my dream” he says.
At Vantaa’s MUP Stadium, the players and management have been closely following their teammate’s World Cup run.
“It’s an exceptional time for him as a player, and everyone here is very excited for him and interested to hear his experience, which have been positive so far I would imagine” says Jukka Haarala, VJS strength and conditioning coach.
“He’s a very physical player, a winning mentality and a fighter, that’s how i would describe him and with his attitude towards training, anything’s possible. Obviously this experience makes him even stronger as a player” says Haaralaa.
Like any player, Said Ahmed has aspirations to go to the very top of the sport and play for some of the biggest teams in the world.
“My dream is to play in the English Premier League, or Spanish La Liga. My dream team is Barcelona. But If I get a contract from Finnish Veikkausliiga that would also be a very very big thing for me.”
Before any of those dreams can come true, he lands back down to earth with a must-win game on Saturday against FC Kiffen, although his inclusion in the starting line-up is not yet certain because of the travel arrangements from Harare to Helsinki.
“He’s an ambitious guy who wants to go forward and maybe a little unlucky with injuries last season, but still he’s a young player, and I think this is a big boost for his career, I’m very happy for him” says VJS coach Marko Kolsi.
“As a club we are very proud that a player from our club VJS can become an international player. He’s a great example for young players.”