After spending years without playing a competitive international fixture, Sao Tome e Principe is now playing again and aiming for success
Being able to watch the England national team qualify for and compete in European Championships and World Cups, as well as we see those players compete in the Premier League every week, is something that football fans in this country take for granted.
Fans on the African islands of Sao Tome e Principe have to be patient with a national team who spend years at a time without any kind of game, let alone competitive fixtures, and a national league which is regularly cancelled by the national FA.
Since the turn of the millennium, the Selecão dos Falcões e Papagaios have only played 13 times (winning three in the process) and between 2004 and 2011 they did not even take part in a match. In that time English fans have managed to watch their national team 156 times and have had a league system undisrupted since 1945, while the 169,000 people on the islands have lost four seasons since 2000.
The national FA came under scrutiny once it was discovered that the national team had been receiving its full instalments of Goal project money from FIFA without taking part in the global football community. In 2011 FIFA President Sepp Blatter visited the island and announced that its footballing community was about to drastically change.
On November 11th 2011 thousands of fans went to the Estadio Nacional to watch a side, full of home-grown players, take on Congo in a World Cup 2014 qualifier. However, Brazil looked extremely far away with the Falcons and Parrots suffering a 5-0 loss, although pride was restored with a 1-1 draw away in the second-leg of the qualifier.
Momentum and enthusiasm for the national team continued into 2012 when they entered qualifying for this year’s edition of the African Cup of Nations. It began brightly in the preliminary rounds when a 1-0 victory at home against Lesotho was enough for them to progress to the first round, 4,300 days after their last victory against Sierra Leone.
It would later be Sierra Leone who ended any hope (however slim it had been) of qualifying for the African Cup of Nations when a 2-1 home victory was overturned in the second leg where the Stars inflicted a 4-2 defeat which left the aggregate score at 5-4.
But the long-term success of football on Sao Tome e Principe will not end after qualifying, now that the Federação Santomense de Futebol is coming in from the wilderness and taking part in coaching courses for men and women’s football, refereeing and administration.
Sao Tomeans will hope that they will never have to wait so long again to enjoy seeing their national team play, and thanks to FIFA intervention, they will be able to enjoy the infrastructure and coaching knowledge needed for the game to blossom, hopefully finishing with an appearance at an international competition.