Si there is something that makes it particularly unique Africa Cup are its unexpected heroes. Players who play in lost divisions of European football or in national leagues who see how the spotlight of the largest African national team tournament rests on them during the month that the competition lasts, before returning to traditional ostracism.
If each Africa Cup leaves us with several of those names, Cameroon 2021 at the moment, is that of the goalkeepers: on the first day he stood out Mohamed Nbalie Kamara, who managed to stop the champion Algeria in 2019 (0-0) and in the second, the merit and all the spotlights have gone to Salim Ben Boina, goalkeeper of the Comoros Islands and that until the match against Morocco (2-0), his greatest football successes had been reaped… as a beach soccer goalkeeper!
From Marseille to the Africa Cup
To explain the success of Ben Boina we have to explain the overall success of the Comoros Islands team, debutant in an Africa Cup in Cameroon 2021 and whose player base is born in France: 26 of the 27 summoned were born on Gallic soil. Even the selector Amir Abdou was born in Marseille and became the key to the success of the ‘Coelacanths’ selection. As it happened to him, he began to investigate the ‘market’ Comorian in the lower French categories, putting the focus, above all, on the teams from the French southeast, ‘home’ of the large colony of the African island in the European metropolis.
There Abdou found Salim Ben Boina, goalkeeper at the time for GS Consolat (now Athlético Aix Marseille Provence, French Fifth Division) and offered him to be international for the Comoros Islands, a federation that he barely had 10 years to live after joining FIFA in 2005, five years after doing it in the African CAF.
French beach soccer star… who almost quit
Until then, Ben Boina’s greatest successes had come in beach soccer. The goalkeeper had won three French Leagues (2011, 2012 and 2013) with the Marseille Beach Team, the group from the French city dedicated to this form of football.
His path then in terms of football was not clear. As he himself stated in 2014, “I did some tests for a team from Malaga and I didn’t pass them. When I came back to France I wanted to quit, but they told me to try my hand at beach soccer.”
That change of course ended up being key. Thanks to the aforementioned league titles with Marseille, the French beach soccer team called him up to compete for qualification for the 2015 Beach Soccer World Cup, but Les Bleus did not progress.
Throughout his entire career, Ben Boina has been defending the jersey of teams from the French Fourth to Fifth division, but in beach soccer he was always a reference. So much so, that he has never stopped playing that form of football.
This past summer of 2021, for example, he played the equivalent of the Champions League with the Marseille Beach Team, although they did not make it out of the group stage. In that tournament he coincided in the team with Theo Cantona, nephew of the great French star and that Ben Boina himself stated that “he has ever come to see the French beach soccer team play and the Marsella Beach Team“.
MVP against Morocco in CAN 2021
With all that background Salim Ben Boina, currently enrolled in the ranks of the Union Sportive Marseille Endoume Catalans, a team of the French Fifth, had the best game of his life against Morocco, covering up to seven shots on goal by the Moroccans, including a penalty kick taken by En-Nesyri and a triple occasion in which Ben Boina dressed up as an ‘octopus’ to prevent the Atlas Lions’ goal.
Despite the final defeat (2-0) of the Coelacanths, the CAF considered Ben Boina MVP of the match. His tears with the game over, lying on the pitch, showed the emotion that this meeting had meant for him. “I think that to be a goalkeeper you need something crazy,” he said in his day. Today, madness has unleashed her before the eyes of the whole world… and before one of the great favorites.