HALIFAX – A first call up for international duty recently resulted in a young HFX Wanderers FC player being a part of history.
On Sept. 5, winger Abd-El-Aziz Yousef played a full 90 minutes as Somalia earned a 1-0 decision over Zimbabwe, the nation’s first victory in a World Cup qualifier in its history.
“First ever win, it was just an unbelievable feeling,” Yousef told CanPL.ca. “It was big and it kind of united all Somalia in one win. Hopefully we just keep going from here and take it to another level.”
It’s a result not many expected, especially considering you have to scroll to the bottom of the FIFA world rankings to find Somalia ranked 199 out of 211 nations, sandwiched between fellow minnows Timor-Leste and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and well behind Zimbabwe (No. 118).
“It was a very emotional feeling, just to be at an international level that is very high for me, for a 19-year-old,” Yousef said.
The Cinderella tale didn’t completely work out in the end with the Ocean Stars losing on aggregate after losing 3-0 in the second leg vs. Zimbabwe on Sept. 10, thus ending the nation’s run to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Yousef played the first 60 minutes in the return match, and he was substituted off while the game was still 0-0.
For the qualifiers, the Somali Football Federation took a different approach to building its roster by picking athletes who are playing outside the country. Including Yousef, 12 players were brought in from overseas.
“So, that made a big difference. We managed to just focus on the game and get a result for our country and we just made our country proud,” Yousef said.
While Yousef was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Vancouver, his mother was born in Mogadishu, Somalia giving him eligibility for the Ocean Stars.
“She was very happy, and she just told me it’s your decision whether you want to play or not, but she said she would be very happy if I represent Somalia. She was just extremely happy when I went for it,” Yousef said.
HFX Wanderers FC coach Stephen Hart watched Yousef in action and pointed out how he impressed, but also where he needs to
“It just showed us everything we know about him. He’s a young man that has talent when he gets the ball,” Hart explained.
“The game showed what, for me, is the element of his game that he really needs to work on which is football without the ball. You can’t only play when you get the ball. It means you’re only playing for three minutes. Once he works on that and keeps working on that, then his game will be in a situation where we can definitely get something out of him.”
While Yousef has yet to see CPL action this season, he has been available off the bench as a substitute in a number of matches.
“It will help me as a player and as a person,” Yousef said while reflecting on his experience. “My debut for my national team, it was just an unbelievable feeling. I’m just really blessed to be playing.”
As for what’s next with the national team, Yousef said Somalia is hoping to qualify for the 2021 African Cup of Nations when the tournament takes place in Cameroon.