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Uri Levy

Footballers join Sudan's anti-Bashir protests

Thousands of protesters gathered outside the army HQ [AFP]

Date of publication: 9 April, 2019

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Sudanese football players are supporting the tens of thousands of protesters confronting the regime's security forces.
Since December 2018, Sudan has been facing a serious uprising. Protests that started due to a rise in bread prices and a general shortage of food took over the whole nation.

Back then, in a CAF Champions League qualification match between Al-Hilal Omdurman, the biggest club in the country, and Tunisia's Club Africain, a whole stadium chanted against the regime of Omar Al-Bashir, who has ruled the country for the past 30 years.

The fans showed a clear stance and joined the protests, highlighting the club's identity in the country: the team of the people.

In the past weekend, the protests took a step forward on April 6 - the 34th anniversary of the coup d'etat that eventually brought Bashir to power.

Tenths of thousands gathered outside the army HQ, while others throughout the country hit the streets calling for the resignation of the regime.

Al-Hilal Omdurman, in Tunisia preparing for their game against Etoile du Sahel in Sousse, did not remain indifferent.

In their final training session, players took photos with the Sudanese flag expressing their support for the tens of thousands of protesters confronting the regime's security forces.



Feeling the heat in Egypt and Saudi Arabia

Not every season sees the two biggest clubs in the Middle East and North Africa facing severe crisis. But both Al-Ahly Cairo and Al-Hilal Riyadh are in serious trouble.

In clubs of this calibre, it takes little to call a particular situation a crisis. Usually, if they aren't thrashing their local leagues and making full statement victories in continental competitions, the fans, the board and the media start to lose it.

In Egypt, however, for the first time in five years, Al-Ahly is about to lose the championship title to their bitter rival, Zamalek.

And if that's not enough, in the CAF Champions League, last week they lost heavily in a pathetic display to South African powerhouse Mamelodi Sundowns in Pretoria.

In fact, "lost heavily" might be an understatement for a match where Al-Ahly opened well, but after conceding the first goal in the 13th minute, just went off track completely.

They conceded four more goals - succumbing to their worst ever loss in the African Champions League. It was probably their most significant loss in history - the highest in the past 25 years in an official match.

In Saudi Arabia, the situation is entirely different. Al-Hilal invested heavily this season, signing a series of high profile foreigners, including Bafetimby Gomis and Sebastian Giovinco. The target, as always, was the AFC Champions League, as well as the domestic title.

Since the board sacked Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus at the end of January, the team has lost some of its strength, but the victories kept coming.

Until the most recent international break, things still looked fine with the new Croatian coach, Zoran Mamić. But in subsequent games, the team drew once, lost twice (including to Iran's Esteghlal in the Asian Champions League), and won only two games, with one of them scraping a winner in extra time.

These results are average, but in the climate of a club such as Al-Hilal, a series of games as this means one thing: crisis.

Whether one of the clubs will sack their coaches or will make other changes, Middle Eastern mega-clubs are hard to compare to in manners of stress, pressure and expectations.

Just ask Ramon Diaz, Slaven Bilic and a long list of famous European and South American professionals who tasted the swords of impulsive presidents of the region.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

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