Sudan still chasing their world finals dream
Former international Ali Gagarin optimistic about the future
Focus now on the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™
Sudan have played their part in the history of African football and in the creation of the continent’s biggest football tournament, factors that set them apart from their nearest neighbours. Inspired by a golden generation of players, they won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 1970, and since then they have experienced many highs and lows on the continental and international scenes.
The Sudanese are currently on an upward trajectory, having qualified for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, to be held in Cameroon in January. In the meantime, they will continue to pursue their biggest dream and attempt to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time in their history.
Sudan were a feared outfit in the 1960s and 70s, a time when they were regarded as one of the strongest sides on the continent, along with the likes of Algeria, Guinea, Morocco and Egypt. The country’s greatest footballing achievements came in that golden era, when a side containing the likes of Nasr Al Deen Abbas (better known as Jaksa), Omar Ali Hassab Al Rasoul (Hasbo Al Sagheer) and former captain and star player Haidar Ali (Ali Gagarin) won the seventh Africa Cup of Nations in 1970, a triumph that came after two runners-up spots in their three previous appearances.
As Ali Gagarin explained to FIFA.com, that success was all down to talent: “Our generation was a class apart. We depended more on individual quality than tactics and planning on the pitch. At that time every club had seven or eight top players. We didn’t need coaches, and it was a different game to what it is today. We didn’t play in the same way. Today’s players are like robots.”
Sudan’s glory days did not last long. That golden generation eventually departed the scene, while Al Hilal and Al Merreikh – Sudan’s biggest clubs – both experienced slumps that impacted on the national team, which went a long time without qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations.
A former Al Hilal captain, Ali put that extended period of failure down to a lack of resources and added that any country hoping for a footballing resurgence needs money to make it happen.
“Sudanese football really fell behind,” he explained. “And the reason for that is a lack of academies and training centres. There have been attempts to set them up, but the budgets are still too small and there’s also a significant lack of infrastructure. And despite the country’s proud footballing history, there’s no national training centre. People have been talking about it since 1989, but it still hasn’t happened. It shows a lack of respect for the talent we have. If you ask me, the solution lies in drawing up a robust, long-term plan for developing football in Sudan.”
Despite it all, a talented new generation is breaking through, raising hopes that Sudan can once again excel on the continental stage. The return to the Africa Cup of Nations has ended the country’s ten-year absence from the tournament, an upturn in fortunes that Gagarin puts down to a number of factors: “Compared to the past, there’s been a noticeable improvement in Sudanese football, due to the massive interest in the game and the significant investments the authorities are making.
“We have a group of talented players that’s just come through, like the Al Hilal forward Mohamed Abdel Rahman Al-Gharbal, and we’ve had some Europe-based players come into the national team as well.”
With a place at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations safely secured, Sudan are set to resume their long-running pursuit of a World Cup place, a dream they almost made happen back in 1970. In the next few days they will play their opening matches in the second round of the African qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, in which they will take on Morocco, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau in Group I.
Though the task is far from easy, Ali is optimistic about Sudan’s chances: “There aren’t many talented individuals in the national team right now, but they’re physically strong and full of determination, which will help them when they take on Morocco, who have the experience of having played at Russia 2018. Matches are decided on the pitch, though, not on paper.”
So can Sudan finally make their dream a reality and seal their place in Qatar? The next few months will bring the answer to that question and reveal if this new breed can bring the glory days back to Sudanese football.