Article synopsis: Analysis about the state of Sudanese team in the run up to 2010 World Cup qualification
Text: “My team could not match the quality of Ghana,” Sudan coach Stephen Constantine admitted after the Desert Hawks succumbed 2-0 to the Black Stars on Sunday.
The result at Accra’s Ohene Djan stadium ended their hopes of qualifying to next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa.
They remain rooted at the base of Group D with one point.
At least Sudan can remain optimistic about qualification to Angola’s African Cup of Nations tournament.
If Benin and Mali–the other members of the group–fluff in the remaining two fixtures and Sudan wins both, it will be guaranteed a place at the 27th edition of the competition.
Yet Constantine’s observation deserves much more reflection.
Probably Sunday’s result mirrors the state in which Sudanese football finds itself today. A sharp contrast exists.
Back in 1957, Sudan became the first hosts of the African Cup of Nations tournament.
They ended up losing 2-1 to Egypt in the final.
In 1963, Sudan were again in the final.
But the result read 3-0 in favour of Ghana.
Ironically, it was not until 1970, under the tutelage of Czech Jiri Starost, that they finally cut the mustard when they defeated a stubborn Ghana 1-0 to lift their first-ever Africa Cup.
Since then, their fortunes embarked on a free-fall.
They have, to date, only been to the finals of the Nations Cup seven times and consecutively missed out on 15 occasions.
Yet qualification to the mundial still remains as impossible as asking for blood from a cabbage. Elusive.
The failure of their national team to succeed at international level–except in the regional Cecafa Cup–is pretty much replicated at club stage.
Despite having some of the oldest clubs like El-Merreikh, which was founded in 1927, and Al-Hilal (1930), neither has won the present-day Confederation of African Football (Caf) Champions League.
Compare such failure to the successes of their Egyptian neighbours Zamalek and Al-Ahly.
The two clubs have won Africa’s top club competition a record five times each.
So what really is the problem with Sudanese football?
First, the physical stature and poor skills of players makes them less marketable to European clubs.
All the players that lost to Ghana play their football in Sudan.
They lack depth and experience to play at the highest level.
Tactically and technically, the Sudanese seem to have miles to cover, with their coach needing to know the African football terrain better: the 46 year-old Englishman has only coached one African team before — Malawi.
For instance in their loss against Ghana, they employed a 4-5-1 formation against Ghana’s 4-1-4-1.
But despite packing the midfield, they could not match Ghana’s mobility and right-back Elbasha Ahmed was always in a panicky mode whenever the Black Stars were on the offensive.
Domestically, the poor organisation of the league, the ethnic war that has split the north from the south, and the lack of any local football icons are just some of the many reasons that have conspired to make the Desert Hawks the novices they are.
On the religious front, in Constantine’s words, games played during the Holy month of Ramadan, as was the case on Sunday, put Sudanese opponents at an advantage.
He could be right because only three members of the Sudanese team broke their dawn-to-dusk fast.
But perhaps Constantine needs to be reminded that other equally-devout Muslim countries like Algeria and Egypt recorded victories at the weekend.
Until Sudanese football authorities attend to all areas of football needs, the country might as well forget about qualifying for any major football event.
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