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This article has been written by my dear friend Mouayad Elmahi (follow him on Twitter!). He will tell us about the history of the football in his country but also about the current situation of it. The Sudanese national team recently caught the world’s attention in reaching the quarters of the AFCON 2012 what can be considered as a great achievement and sensation.
1957, 55 years ago, Sudan, back then Africa’s largest country, proposed to organize a football tournament only for African national teams. The first competition was held on Sudanese soil. The participants who were also the founders of the African Football Federation were led by Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt. Egypt beat Ethiopia in the final with 4-0 and Sudan had to settle for the third place in front of their own fans.
1959, 2 years later, Egypt, back then known as the United Arab Republic, hosted the tournament and beat Sudan in the final with 2-1 in the dying minutes of the game.
1963, 4 years, later Sudan would again be defeated in the final. This time by Ghana though who scored three times and managed to keep a clean sheet.
In 1970, the Sudanese national team wrote history and won the African Cup of Nations for the first and last time. The team that reached the final consisted of the main player Haydar Hassan Haj Al-Sidig also known as Ali Gagarin (holding the cup). Gagarin is the best Sudanese striker of all time scoring 350 goals in all competitions in 12 years, an unbroken record in Sudan yet. Another star in the team was Jaxa (behind Gagarin), also a striker who contributed a lot to the victory in their own country. Jaxa actually replaced Gagarin in the final (who couldn’t play) but didn’t score in the end. However, the Sudanese men could take their revenge in a 1-0 win over the Black Stars from Ghana. Shawateen aka Devil (to Gagarin’s left) is considered by many as the best defender to have ever played in and for Sudan.
All these players are still considered as stars in Sudan for the incredible work they have done for their club (Al-Hilal, most successful club in Sudan) and their country. Their devotion and fitness has been unmatched in Sudan yet.
Ali Gagarin is the younger brother of Jaafer Gagarin a defender who played for Al-Hilal’s rivals Al-Merreikh. They both received the nickname Gagarin after Yuri Gagarin from the Soviet Union, the first man to travel to space. Ali is known for his superb pace, energy, ball control, and shooting skills. He became captain in 1976 and scored 11 of the national teams 13 goals in the same year. In the 1980s while Gagarin was playing with Al-Hilal versus Canon Yaounde, one of the best Cameron football teams back then, he contributed to Al-Hilal’s qualification for the final of the African Champions League. The first leg was won 1-0 at home and the second one 4-1 in Cameron after penalty shoot-out. A very special event happened after the match: a 6-year-old Cameroonian boy approached Gagarin and asked for his jersey with the number 9 on the back. Gagarin handed the boy the jersey with a grin. That boy would later on become one of Africa’s best football players ever: Samuel Eto’o.
Unfortunately neither Al-Hilal nor Al-Merreikh have ever won a major African Cup. They are the two top clubs in Sudan with Al-Hilal winning 26 Premier League titles and Al-Merreikh 18 titles. They always lose in the semis or the finals. The reason for that, in my opinion, is that the players simply don’t have the physical fitness to play perfectly over 90 minutes against other hungry clubs. The Sudanese Football Federation must be blamed for that since it doesn’t provide the basic training material that players need. They also don’t tell the players to be properly defending against foreign teams in the African Champions League. Since the players from Al-Hilal and Al-Merreikh don’t really need to seriously defend in their own league, they aren’t used to it.
That’s why the best Sudanese players are almost always strikers such as are Gagarin, Jaxa, Abrahoma, and Aldihaish. These strikers are role models to most young Sudanese strikers nowadays. They accomplished the unthinkable before moving to either Al-Hilal or Al-Merreikh while playing for weaker teams and either winning against one of the two giants or becoming the league’s top scorer.
Yet, the Sudanese Premier League has only been won by 4 different teams (Al-Hilal, Al-Merreikh, Al-Mawreda, and Hilal Alsahel) in its history starting from 1964. Before 1964, the Sudanese Premier League was only played by teams from the capital. These clubs were founded in the 1920’s by the English colonial masters.
Al-Hilal and Al-Merreikh rivalry has been witnessed since the 1930’s when both teams started to be extremely successful. Even though Al-Hilal has won more league titles than Al-Merreikh, they only have won the Sudanese cup 7 times while Al-Merreikh could celebrate this one 20 times. Hilal fans like to concentrate on the league much more than on the cup because a double in Sudan is difficult to achieve due to the low fitness level of the players. This exhaustion can be explained with a rarely changing starting eleven unlike in other countries around the world. The first thing you are asked about if you live in Sudan, is if you are supporting Al-Hilal or Al-Merreikh. People living in the capital mainly support those two teams.
Al-Hilal’s and Al-Merreik’s stadiums are surprisingly only 4 blocks away from each other in the capital city of Omdurman. (The capital of Sudan consists of: Khartoum, Bahri, and Omdurman, the three largest cities.) Thankfully there have been no acts of violence between fans of these two rivals. We all believe that the best way to prove which is the better team is on the pitch and that nothing can be proved with fights or arguments.
A very important Sudanese football player is the Al-Hilal’s central midfielder, the 25-year-old Alaa Eldin Yusef. He is one of the few midfielders with the fitness and mentality to be able to defend and attack during a whole match. His tackles are always golden and he has proven himself in both the African Cup of nations and the Champions League. He has received offers from other African clubs but chosen to stay in Sudan with his family and fans. He is often called “Viera” or “Xabi Alonso” by his fans but he has specifically demanded to never be called so again because he believes that he will never reach their level.
Another footballer I admire is the 24-year-old striker Mudathir Eltayeb. He is nicknamed “Karika” after the Brazilian striker. Eltayeb has already proven his quality many times. He was the league’s top scorer in 2010, in his first year with Al-Hilal. “Karika” is one of the fastest football players in Sudan and punishes unconcentrated defenders who give him enough space to either shoot or dribble through the sluggish center-backs we sadly have in Sudan.
Another player with immense skills, shots like missiles, but unfortunately slow pace is the 28-year-old Muhannad Eltahir who is playing as a striker for Al-Hilal. His free-kicks are dangerous and he caught the attention of many scouts during the AFCON 2012 as he assisted quite a lot of goals.
There are of course other amazing Sudanese players such as former Hilal player Ahmed Adel, and current Hilal striker Bakri Almadina who are both among the few fast and strong young strikers of Sudan. However, “Karika” is favored over them because he has proves himself in big games for example in the African Cup of Nations. His two goals against Burkina Faso meant Sudan’s qualification for the quarters for the first time in 36 years.
This season Al-Hilal, and Al-Merreikh will try to prove themselves in the African Champions League, while Amal Atbara, and Ahli Shendi will try to prove themselves in the African Confederation Cup. Both teams are participating in the Champions League. They will have a chance to perform well thanks to their new signings and improved management with coaches and physical staff.
What Sudanese players and teams need to do in order to become successful this season is to stop relying on impulse from the fans to win matches. They need to be more responsible more often and work on the tactical plans and improve their passing.
On April 12, 2012 Al-Hilal hosts Al-Merreikh and has the chance to widen the gap between their rivals (only 1 point yet). In case of a defeat they would lose the top spot though. Both teams have been spectacular so far this season so we expect a great match!
Again a huge thank you to Mouayad Elmahi for having written this article for my blog, I can’t appreciate it enough! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I do/did! Please rate and share it but most important: PLEASE FOLLOW THE AUTHOR ON TWITTER: @moelmahi