Article: Rosalind Amoh
As the first host of what has become the flagship of African football and among the pacesetters of the game, Sudan’s role was relegated to the background due to several years of war which had devastating effect on the socio-economic activities of the country.
They lost their place in the elite of African football and for 30 years, were isolated from the rest of the continent and the world.
However, the years of struggle had very little effect on the country’s football as they qualified for the Nations Cup in style once they were re-admitted into African football.
The Desert Hawks as the team are called, the team stunned many when they finished on top of their group to book their tickets for Ghana 2008. They won five of the six matches they played in the qualifiers and had a maximum of 15 points ahead of favourites, Tunisia, the 2004 champions.
Winners in 1970 and with six appearances, Sudan, who had hosted the event two times, had their role in the Nations Cup interrupted for more than 34 years due to civil war which robbed the nation of the prestige and opportunity to be part of the African football family both at the club and national levels.
They are not the names to reckon with in modern-day football, yet Sudan has a largely compact team built around the local stars who have played consistently since their rebuilding exercise.
The rebuilding exercise has also been buoyed by the presence of several Nigerian imports, who unable to make it in their home country, were warmly received in Sudan, have naturalised and mainly play for Sudan’s Al Hilal and Al Merreikh, the sides that almost caused a stir in the 2007 MTN CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup.
The modest achievement by Hilal and Merreikh as well as the national team has suddenly revived interest in football in Sudan and the spotlight will no doubt be on them during Ghana 2008.
It is difficult to pick a star out of the Sudan team but as most of them have limited themselves to playing at home and with an international ban on Sudan, they could not showcase their talent.
However, Ritshard Justin Lado was the only player to have had a stint of foreign league, having played for Egypt’s Ismail but once Sudan was re-admitted into international competition, he returned to his country and helped Al Hilal to their semi-final berth of the 2007 CAF Champions League.
Tall, lanky and sometimes looking fragile, Lado surprisingly plays powerfully and has a work rate which can make an opposing team be on edge for a greater part of their playing time.
He is powerful in midfield and better organises the engine room of the team, playing a very significant role in the team’s success in their CAN 2008 qualifying campaign.
In Ghana, he is expected to maintain that same prowess and spearhead his team’s campaign to reclaim lost glory.
Two other stars who will also be on the look-out in Ghana are Faisal Agab and James Joseph-Moja who helped Sudan, scoring most of Sudan’s 13 goals in the qualifiers. Joseph-Moja’s exploits attracted scouts from the United Arab Emirates who have lured him to sign a deal with Beniyaz.
In Coach Muhamed Abdallah Sudan will have an astute and tactical mind whose desire is to get the Hawks back into the limelight. A former player of the Sudan national team, Coach Abdallah returned to the Sudan national team, first as the technical director before taking charge completely as head coach after they failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
He has since been in charge and masterminded their dramatic and surprising qualification to Ghana 2008.
In Ghana, Sudan may not be one of the favourites to go past the group stages, but their power to be party spoilers for the strong teams must also not be under-estimated.