“All roads lead to Khartoum Stadium” – these are the words on the lips of every football lover in sudan ahead of the derby between Al-Merrikh and Al-Hilal on Saturday, 10 May 2014.
On this occasion, life in the three major cities in the capital namely Khartoum, Omdurman and Khartoum North, completely grinds to a halt and humans and vehicular movements on the streets are cast in blue, white, red and yellow colors of the two most successful clubs in the history of Sudanese football.
Tickets are fast selling at the 30,000-capacity Khartoum Stadium whilst other locations are over whelmed with long queues of supporters of both clubs in their quest to get a share of the only form of access into the stadium.
Though unarguably the biggest game of the first halve of the 2014 Sudanese Premier League, will be broadcast by a host of television channels, thousands of supporters outside the capital descend on Khartoum by buses and trains to have a real feel of the game. Even at the stadium, seating is done in such a manner that supporters of Merrikh occupy the south sector whilst Hilal covers the northern part in their blue colours.
This will be the 152nd derby since the commencement of the local league in 1951. Merrikh nicknamed ‘Al-Zaeem’ have emerged winners 54 times, three more than their bitterest rivals, Hilal, nicknamed ‘Seed al-Balad’ – meaning leader of the nation, whereas 46 meetings have failed to produce a winner.
Last year, Merrikh won 2-0 at home whilst Hilal won the reverse fixture 3-2.
Hilal legend Ali Gagarin (real name Haidar Sediq) is the derby’s top scorer of all-time with 19 goals followed by Al-Merrikh’s Magid Othman (Abu Jinzeer) on 14 goals. It is worthy to note that the Nigeria-born Kelechi Osunwa, who uncharacteristically donned the colours of the two clubs during his stay in sudan between 2005 and 2013, is the foreign player to have scored the highest goals in the derby – 7 goals, two with Hilal (2005-2008) and the other five in the red colours of Merrikh (2009-2013).
Meanwhile, after a seven-year absence, German tactician, Otto Pfister gets yet another feel of the Omdurman-derby after making a return to Merrikh few months ago.
“I adore big games with huge crowds and tensed atmosphere. I always take it easy with no pressure whatsoever,” Pfister told Cafonline.com.
However, Tunisian-Belgian Nasreddin Nabi, who resigned last week in charge of Hilal may have to wait for another time to have a taste of the biggest game on the Sudanese football calendar. In his place is a familiar face, Brazilian Paulo Campos, whose first stint with Hilal lasted 2009-2010.
Campos enjoyed a successful period with Hilal particularly in the derby. In five meetings from the Sudan Premier League, Sudan Cup and CAF Champions League, he was on the winning side thrice, one defeat and one draw.
Pfister on the otherhand has a clean sheet, having never tasted defeat against Hilal. With a record of a win and draw from his only two games, he said “my unbeaten record against Hilal gives me the confidence to motivate my players for the game”.
The German also have an experience of the Cairo derby between Al-Ahly and Zamalek, when in charge of the latter from 1999-2002, and relishes being a part of such big games always full of excitement and suspense.
“The difference between the Egyptian derby and the Sudanese derby is the capacity of the stadium. Cairo Stadium accommodates over 80,000 spectators compared with the 30,000 supporters for Khartoum Stadium. I think the derby deserves to be played in a bigger stadium.
“Throughout my over half-a-century career, I always view matches the same and respect the opponent. No matter the final score, it is important to offer a good quality of play,” Pfister added.
Meanwhile, injury has ruled out Merrikh midfielder, Haitham Mustafa, who crossed carpet to the other side of Omdurman last year after 17-years at Hilal. “The Prince of Sudanese football” has participated in 50 derby games, and is one of few locals to have laced their boots for the two clubs.
The match will draw down the curtains on the first round of the league where Hilal sit atop with 31 points, just a point off Merrikh.
The match will kick-off at 20h00 local time (17h00 GMT).
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Confederation of African Football (CAF) News
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