Newly appointed Sudan captain Muhannad El Tahir is eyeing a historic third appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations after 2008 and 2012. But that dream rest largely on the outcome of the Group I crucial clash against Sierra Leone away in Freetown on Monday, 4 June 2016.
Sudan, African champions in 1970 have four points, one behind leaders Cote d’Ivoire and need nothing short of the maximum points to boost their chances of reaching the finals of the biennial championship for the ninth time in their history.
Ahead of the match, El Tahir talks to Cafonline.com on the importance of the match and their chances. Below are excerpts of the interview;
Cafonline.com: How important is the match against Sierra Leone to your chances of qualification?
Muhannad El Tahir: The real value of the game is that it is very important in the road to the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Gabon in 2017. Certainly, every member of the playing body is motivated and eager to have a taste of the continental championship. The players are well aware of the value of playing at the Africa Cup of Nations finals. They have the feeling that if you don’t do well in the qualifiers, you cannot be among the best teams on the continent at the final tournament. It comes with a great effort and you have to struggle to achieve the result.
All the talks between the players revolve around members of the class of 2012 that qualified for the quarters of the final tournament in Gabon-Equatorial Guinea for the first time since 1970. It was such a good feeling and such talks appear to energize the other members of the team who have never played at the AFCON finals to do more and realize that dream.
What motivates you going into the June 4 clash against Sierra Leone?
The players are highly motivated with the core of the team personally motivated by the desire to play at the finals of the AFCON. There can be no better motivation for a player than playing for your country at the AFCON finals. When you get the chance to wear your national colours at such a big tournament, it brings out a sense of national pride and also the joy of the whole nation is in your hands.
What are you expecting from the game?
Firstly, we have to be well-equipped in the best way and we are working on that on the field to achieve the desired result God willing. We are going to Sierra Leone with a mind set to qualify for Gabon 2017. There are some new players in the team who believe they have the capability to qualify and are worthy to play in a tournament such as the Africa Cup of Nations. We are very concentrated and believe we have quality players capable of dealing with the task in Sierra Leone.
How do you feel to lead the team for the first time as captain?
My ambition as a player is to strive to achieve success. Also, the determination to continue playing for the national team pushed me to accept the honour to wear the prestigious armband. Throughout my career, I missed out on the national team only twice. The truth is that it is not easy to wear the captain's armband to lead a national team. It is a big responsibility.