The Sudan is one of the thirteen countries to have won the Africa Cup of Nations’ trophy. The Nile Crocodiles, who are now known as the Falcons of Jediane or Desert Hawks, have won the coveted trophy once. In 1970, they beat Ghana’s Black Stars 1-0 in the finals to win the trophy in front of their home fans. Since then, the Sudan have had a disappointing run in the continent’s most prestigious competition having made it to the finals only three times. To their chagrin, they have not made it out of the group stage in those three appearances. In 1972 in Cameroon, they could not win a match though they managed two draws. In Ethiopia 1976, they got the same D-L-D (2 draws and a loss) though they place third – a marginal improvement on the bottom place in their previous appearance. Their performance in Ghana in 2008 was rather worse. They lost by 3-0 in all their group matches in Kumasi. Zambia, Egypt(eventual winners) and Cameroon dispensed the same dose to them. Their memories of the Kumasi Baba Yara Sports Stadium may have spurred them on to play that hard against the Black Stars in the first leg of Saturday’s crucial encounter.
In recent qualifying series to the Nations Cup, Sudan has been drawn with Ghana many times. But for the reforms by the Confederation of African Football to the year of staging the Nations Cup apropos years in staging a world cup, Sudan would have been in the same group as Ghana for a place at the ‘2014’ Africa Cup of Nations. But that Africa Cup of Nations was scrapped for a 2013 and 2015 Cups. Therefore, Sudan, Ghana, Zambia and Lesotho/Burundi will just be vying for a place in the third round of qualification for the Brazil 2014 World Cup.
Matter-of-factly, the Black Stars, after their 1-0 loss to Sudan in Omdurman in 2001, have not lost to the Desert Hawks. Ghana beat them 1-0 courtesy an Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour first half strike at the Accra Sports Stadium in the return leg of that loss. Ghana beat them 2-0 in Omdurman in a hostile stadium. That was during the run for the 2010 World Cup. The return leg was quite successful with Ghana securing a bird victory that was ‘worth two in the bush’. Ghana qualified for the South Africa 2010 World Cup as well making it a first for an African country for that world cup.
Since that sweet victory at the then Ohene Djan Stadium, Sudan seem to have had an antidote to the Black Stars’ style of play. At the Kumasi Baba Yara Stadium, where most of us thought victory was assured, the Falcons of Jediane shocked all. Asamoah Gyan, the Black Stars leading striker was prevented from finding the target. In fact, Gyan’s song, which had actually been playing anytime he had a scoring chance, was rendered ‘undanceable’ at least for 90 minutes. (The Black Stars’ night party came off though) Gyan saw red from referee Jerome Damon and those of us then calling for a local coach to lead the Black Stars had to revise our notes. The match ended goalless. As if that was enough, Sudan went on the same points with Ghana in Group I and since then have matched Ghana in the group with points. The only difference has been with Ghana’s superior goals.
Strength of Sudan
Unfortunately for Ghana, Sudan have since grown from strength to strength. Indeed, they are the leading team on the chart of second-placed teams in the qualifiers. They are playing one of the fine footballs on the continent. Together with Libya(but for the recent political upheavals), Niger, Burkina Faso and Botswana, Sudan are among the unsung national teams in the qualifiers. In June this year, I watched how the Sudanese team stormed Kenya’s Nyayo Stadium to shock the Harambee Stars in an LG Cup match. They beat Kenya 2-1 in a stadium filled with passionate Kenyan supporters.
What is more, Sudan has also produced a club – Al Hilal – in the semi-finals of the Orange CAF Champions League; a feat Ghana is struggling to achieve in recent times. Al-Hilal are the only side in the semi-finals not to have won the competition. I was listening to their club chairman Alameen Mohammed Ahmed Albreer on BBC last Friday and he stated that they really are determined to reach the finals and possibly win the trophy because that is the only avenue to re-unite the Sudan. He said that, with the division of the country into (North) Sudan and South Sudan, nothing comes out more readily as a unifier than football. He claims they have some South Sudanese in their squad and these players are bent on making their new country proud. Apparently, most of the Al-Hilal players feature for the national team and the Southerners may be playing for the Sudan for the last time with regard to qualifiers. As a result, the Sudan-Ghana match, which may be their last qualifier for Sudan, is not going to be on a silver platter like the Black Stars had it the last time they played there.
Expectations of Ghana and Sudan
It is worth mentioning that the expectations of Ghana and Sudan are different. The game is a must-win for Sudan as according to their football association president, Dr. Kamal Shaddad, they do not want to worry their heads over any mathematics for qualification.
But Ghana’s is carved out clear. We require at least a draw to make it to Gabon/Equatorial Guinea. Indeed, a win is the target of the team as the GFA President, Kwesi Nyantakyi, made it clear to me a day before the team’s last qualifier (against Swaziland). He was categorical in mentioning that just like the Black Stars are under pressure in the group, the Sudanese are also under enormous pressure especially going to play Ghana in front of home fans. My candid wish is that Ghana gets at least a point from Khartoum. Other than that, a loss may see us experience a fate similar to that of Egypt – failure to make it to Gabon/Equatorial Guinea. Yes!! Ghana may fail to make it for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations if the Black Stars lose to Sudan and Zambia also loses to Libya in Group C. So as we pray the Black Stars get the required results, we should also pray Zambia does not lose to embattled Libya so that when it gets to the crunch of best second-placed teams, Ghana may scrape through. And again, that is if the Black Stars lose in Omdurman.