Al Hilal and Al Merreikh; they’re Sudan’s biggest clubs and over the last 20 years it has been a case of them yo-yo-ing for the Sudan title with either one or the other winning it. Each heavily backed by Sudan’s two oil tycoons, the majority of the Sudan squad are plucked from the two clubs. Al Hilal and Al Merreikh aren’t merely clubs who have shaken Sudanese football; they’ve also made in-roads on a continental level. Indeed, Al Hilal were semi-finalists in the Champions League in 2011 and in 2009, on both of those occasions they lost to the eventual winners, Esperance and TP Mazembe, respectively. Al Merreikh haven’t made as much an impact as their rivals but they lost to eventual CAF Champions League finalists Esperance in 2010 and have been a constant feature in the Champions League.
The entire Sudan squad at the 2008 Cup of Nations were plucked from Al Hilal and Al Merreikh. The lack of exposure was evident for all to see as they received three consecutive 3-0 defeats. Coach Mohamed ‘Mazda’ Abdalla bemoaned the lack of exposure as one of the reasons for their whippings. With a drive to overcome the shortcomings, in the lead up to this year’s tournament he has conducted a mission of exposure. Sudan played with some of the players in the current squad at the African Nations Championship (a tournament of domestic-based players) and the CECAFA Cup (a tournament of consisting of East and Central African national teams) and finished third in both of those tournaments.
And they’ve fully reaped the rewards of their exposure mission in this year’s edition. Naturally, their cohesion as a unit is their main strength – you only have to look at the way they efficiently used the ball and they’re capable, at times, of some slick-passing. They’ve become the first East African side to reach the knockout stages of the Cup of Nations since Uganda in 1978. Sudan themselves have a rich early history in the competition, of course, winning the tournament iin 1970 on home soil. But that was 42 years ago and last night was their first win in the Cup of Nations since then.
All in all, it is an uplifting story of a country that have had to go through a lot in recent times with the secession of South Sudan – economic woes which are deepening due to the fight for oil revenues located in the South. This is not to say that Sudanese football is on the rise and about to dominate the world, far from it – lack of exposure still remains a problem and their opponents, Angola and Burkina Faso, have shot themselves in the foot with their lack of cohesion. Ah yes, cohesion. The Falcons of Jediane’s cohesion, technique and organisation is something other East African national teams can aspire to, though, instead of replicating the production of the powerful players of West Africa.
Photo Credit: Reuters Photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh