Sudan make quarterfinals for 1st time since 1970

Reaching the African Cup of Nations quarterfinals with an

entirely home-based squad is Sudan’s brightest footballing moment

in more than 40 years.

Sudan beat Burkina Faso 2-1 on Monday to climb above Angola and

snatch a last-eight place with cup favorite Ivory Coast from Group

B.

The result not only advanced Sudan, it was also its first

victory in the finals since 1970, ending a winless streak of nine

matches over three tournaments.

Coach Mohamed Abdallah says the success was sparked by defeat in

the opening match, when Sudan lost 1-0 to Ivory Coast but showed it

could compete with the best in Africa.

”In that first match, we lost the game but we gained

confidence,” Abdallah said.

As a founder member of the Confederation of African Football

with its own fine football tradition, Sudan’s descent to

irrelevance following its African Cup win on home soil in 1970 was

hard to bear.

The east African nation hosted the inaugural Cup of Nations in

1957 when just four teams were due to compete before South Africa

was thrown out because of apartheid.

Sudan failed to make the final in that first tournament, but

fared slightly better in 1959 with a second-place finish in a

three-team round-robin format won by host Egypt.

By 1963, the cup expanded to six teams. Sudan won its group to

qualify for the final but went down 3-0 to host Ghana.

The tournament returned to Sudan in 1970, when the host had

group-stage wins over Ethiopia and Cameroon, before beating Egypt

in the semifinals. Sudan met powerhouse Ghana in the final where an

early goal secured its only continental title.

Sudan was then overtaken by other teams, and further cup

appearances in 1972 and ’76 yielded a return of just four

draws.

Even during its heyday, Sudan never qualified for the World Cup

and the team would not appear at the Cup of Nations for more than

30 years, eventually returning to the finals in 2008 only to lose

all three group matches.

After so many meager years, coach Abdallah said continuity and

faith in young players was finally bringing the team renewed

success.

Apart from a brief period in 2009-10, Abdallah has been in

charge of the national side since 2004, and said his familiarity

with his home-based players helped.

”It’s very important. You have to follow and see the players

all the time,” he said. ”I have enough time to know all my

players because they all play in Sudan.”

Abdallah hopes that will change with the added exposure his team

is getting in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

”One of my objectives is to have a few players get to play

outside,” he said.

The 2-2 draw against Angola included Sudan’s first goals in the

finals since 1976, but also featured two glaring defensive

errors.

”I’m trying to minimize the small mistakes of our inexperienced

defenders against high-quality strikers,” Abdallah said. ”I think

we are improving.”

Finding the balance between defense and attack was crucial, he

said. ”You can’t tell the players just to attack. We have to

defend well and use our chances.”

Sudan will play Zambia in the last eight on Saturday.