Five minutes from the end of an enthralling exhibition football match between the youth national teams of Eritrea and South Sudan, Eritrea’s Simon scored the third goal in what was a thoroughly convincing win for the Eritrean team. What a goal it was, too.
Nahom delivered an inch-perfect cross-field pass to Mrust. Mrust laid it back to Moab, who fed it to Nahom on the left flank. Nahom then dragged the ball back into the path of Simon. Simon took one touch and unleashed a rocket from 25 yards, which ended up in the back of the net.
The Eritrean team was beautiful to watch as they put in a great performance in Asmara Stadium to beat South Sudan 3-0. However, they won the game not only with guile, but also with guts.
The first goal came from central defender Mrust Habtom, who scored an incredible Beckham-esque goal from the half-way line. South Sudan’s goalkeeper, John Maik, knew he was in trouble as soon as the ball left Mrust’s foot. To be accurate, after having begun with such poor positioning, there was little the goalkeeper could do to prevent the ball from ending up in the back of the net.
Conceding a goal within the first 5 minutes in a match away from home certainly wasn’t the start that South Sudan wanted. However, it gave the Eritreans the platform to dictate the match. The Eritrean players, at times, were mesmerizing, wowing the crowd with a series of flicks and tricks, which they balanced with unselfish runs, clever passes, and good positioning. When Eritrea had the ball, South Sudan struggled to look anything other than utterly bewildered. To their credit, they did not give up. In fact, they kept the game close at 1-0, until the 71st minute, when Mewael Tesfay scored the second goal for Eritrea. By then the game appeared to be over as a contest. Eritrea’s first international football win in nearly seven years was cemented when Simon scored the third of the evening for the Red Sea Camels.
The match was about more than just football, however; it was a match of peace, development, and solidarity between the two nations. It was great to see hundreds of fans, including many families and women, attend the much-anticipated match.
“It is great for the people of South Sudan for the national team to come and play in Eritrea. We are brothers and sisters. This is the first time that the South Sudan national football team has come to Eritrea to play a friendly,” stated the team’s head of public relations, Mr. Gabriel Daniel.
For millennia, there has been an association between sport and nation bonding. The ancient Olympiad, for example, begun in 776 BC “in a religious setting as one of the activities during the festival of Zeus”, would develop into a vast sporting competition, a gift to the people, and a way to sublimate conflict. In the 19th century, the strategic rivalry between Britain and Russia for supremacy in Central Asia was considered the “Great Game” (or “Tournament of Shadows”). For the British, spurred on by Henry Newbolt’s Vitai Lampada, a stirring homage to sport, sport was one of the foundations on which the Empire was spread and consolidated. More recently, during the 21st century, there have been numerous examples illustrating the close relationship between sport and development.
And let’s not forget the film Invictus, a portrayal of how Nelson Mandela used the rugby World Cup to help foster the country’s healing process after he was elected as South Africa’s first post-apartheid president.
Most of the time, football is viewed as something that transcends politics and prejudice. Football, you see, is a universal language and it can be a powerful tool to promote development, tolerance, and understanding. It brings people together across boundaries, cultures, and religions. Its intrinsic values, such as teamwork, fair play, discipline, respect for the opponent and the rules of the game, and courage are understood all over the world and can be harnessed in the advancement of solidarity, social cohesion, and peaceful coexistence.
During the closing ceremony, which was held at Imperial Hotel after the game, the President of the Eritrean National Football Federation mentioned that he hoped that the match would be just the beginning of friendship, development, and cooperation between both nations.
Additionally, the President of the South Sudan Football Association stated that while the match was organized to promote friendship between South Sudan and Eritrea, it also provided both teams with important lessons. He added that he hoped it would be the precursor to the development of football in the region and that football had the potential to affect positive change.
Mr. Salah Rajab Bunduki, the Minister of Information, Culture, Youth, and Sport, expressed his thanks to the ENFF and the Commission of Culture and Sports for successfully hosting the match in Asmara. He also extended an invitation to the Eritrean team to play a friendly match in Juba in the near future.
Undeniably, sport is one of the world’s most popular leisure activities. People from all over the world play, attend, watch, listen to, talk about, and experience sport or sporting competitions. Sport is often described as a language that everyone in the world can understand. Indeed, it can bring together and unite groups and communities, as was the case after the end of the match between Eritrea and South Sudan. Players from both teams embraced and danced to Tigrigna songs as they waved flags of both nations. Selfies were taken and phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged by the end of the night. This was a lasting friendship fostered through the beautiful game.
- Match Facts
Venue: Asmara Stadium
Eritrea: (4-2-3-1): Kibrom Solomon, Nahom Awet, Mrust Habtom, Esseyas Abraham, Henok Michael, Robel Teklemichael, Michael Habte, Nahom Hadgu, Simon Asmelash, Mewael Tesfai, Ali Osman.
South Sudan: (4-2-3-1): John Maik, Emanuel Oroma, Paul Puk, Rehan Anger Malong, Buay Lam Chan, Daniel Samuel, Daniel Angelo, Chol Matur Majok, Dani Lual, Martin Dominic, Peter Antony.
Goals: Mrust Habtom 5’, Mewael Tesfay 71’, Smeon Asmelash 85’
Man of the Match: Robel Teklemichael