Karl Namnganda urges CAR to ‘dream of impossible’ after beating Nigeria

Central African Republic players celebrate their win over Nigeria in the changing room
Central African Republic beat Nigeria in Lagos but face the Super Eagles again on Sunday

Karl Namnganda says Central African Republic need to “dream of the impossible” after their shock victory over Nigeria in qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

The 25-year-old scored his first-ever international goal in stoppage-time in Lagos on Thursday to inflict the Super Eagles’ first home defeat in a World Cup qualifier since October 1981.

CAR are two points behind Group C leaders Nigeria and play Gernot Rohr’s side again on Sunday – with only the group winners reaching next March’s play-offs for Qatar.

“I won’t lie, I think about it [qualifying for the World Cup],” Namnganda said.

“Everything is possible in football. With our young squad, we dream.

“And in football to go far you have to dream of the impossible. We have to use the momentum and give all we have.”

Namnganda only made his debut for Central African Republic, ranked 124th in the world, in the previous international window in September.

But the striker, who plays for Les Herbiers, a fourth-tier amateur team in France, took his chance with confidence after coming on as a substitute.

“In my head, I had already seen the goalkeeper wasn’t on his line,” he said.

“When the ball entered (the goal), I was looking for the camera to thank our fans and my family.

“I was running to the left, to the right and I couldn’t find the camera and at the same time all my teammates entered the pitch. I didn’t realise it went so fast!”

Karl Namnganda scores for Central African Republic against Nigeria in Lagos
Karl Namnganda wheels away in celebration after netting the winner against Nigeria

Nigeria are the fifth-ranked team in Africa and the Super Eagles had several Premier League players in their line-up against CAR.

Watford defender William Troost-Ekong, Brentford midfielder Frank Onyeka and Leicester striker Kelechi Iheanacho all started along with Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, the most expensive African player in history.

Central African Republic, meanwhile, do not have a professional player in their squad.

Atletico Madrid midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia, the star captain of the Wild Beasts, decided to take a break from international duty in August after a dispute with the country’s federation.

“It’s impressive to play against them,” Namnganda said.

“When we arrived at the stadium, it was funny to see the Nigerians. Osimhen I watch scoring goals with Napoli and he is a player I admire.

“Moses (Simon), since I play in the region of Nantes, I see him every weekend with FC Nantes (in French Ligue 1).

“I was disappointed to not start the game. But with hard work and determination, it’s possible to turn things around.”

Messages from CAR diaspora

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has not allowed Central African Republic to play its home games in Bangui, and the return match against Nigeria will instead be held in Douala, Cameroon.

As a result, Namnganda will not be able to play in front of his family back in a country that he left as a one-year-old to live in France.

“My dad sent messages to tell me that people in the family back in CAR were asking if it was really me or if it was someone else,” he said.

“I guess when they saw my name it amazed them.

“I received so many messages from the diaspora. A lot of people contacted me via Instagram or Snapchat, all the socials.

“One of my aunties based in London called me and cried because she always believed in me.”

Karl Namnganda in action for Vendee Les Herbiers Football
Karl Namnganda plays in the French fourth tier for Les Herbiers

The outing in Nigeria is the peak of Namnganda’s career after years of struggles.

In 2017, he decided to quit football and was delivering pizzas at Vigneux-sur-Seine where he grew up following a disappointing experience in Belgium with Seraing’s Under-21 team.

But one of his cousins insisted he go on a trial with SC Cholet, a third-tier team in France, where he spent a year and a half to help his career take off.

And, after his dramatic strike in Lagos, Namnganda must be glad of the advice to give the game another shot.

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