Sudan have received a timely boost before beginning the final phase of African Zone qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ in March: a nine-place leap up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. The Desert Hawks climbed to 84th on the global ladder, edging closer to their highest ever placing, set more than 12 years ago.
This improvement is reflective of Sudanese football's resurgence, which culminated in their return, after a long hiatus, to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals last year. At club level, Sudanese teams have also emerged from a long spell of mediocrity to challenge with some credence in continental competition.
With a place confirmed in the last 20 of African qualifying for South Africa 2010, the northern African country is hoping recent form is a portent of future success. Sudan meet Mali on 28 March in their first match in Group D, with meeting against Ghana and Benin to follow.
It is an exciting time for the Sudanese, who were one of the first African countries to compete in FIFA World Cup qualification (they participated in the qualifying rounds for Sweden 1958), and were among the four founding members of the Confederation of African Football. Sudan were Africa Cup of Nations winners in 1970, but failed to qualify for the tournament between 1976 and 2008, when coach Mohamed 'Mazda' Abdallah masterminded their progression.
Sudan finished above Tunisia in their qualifying group, but at the finals in Ghana they found their years of inexperience a major disadvantage and went out in the first round. Many recent positive results have, nevertheless, sent Sudan back into the top 100 on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and well above their average position of 109th.
The experience gained in Ghana has served Sudan well, however, and they survived a difficult first-round group in the South Africa 2010 preliminaries. It belies the fact that they are ranked 21st in Africa, just inside the top half of the CAF teams. Regulars like veteran striker Faisal Agab, midfielder Haitham Mostafa and defender Omer Bakheit are now recognised faces across the continent for their exploits with both club and country.
In trying to take the team to the next level, Sudan have added Stephen Constantine to their coaching ranks, taking on the Englishman who has previous experience with the national teams of India and Malawi. He will work with Abdallah, who also doubles as an assistant coach at CAF Champions League contenders Al Merreikh.