Following our debut in international football, we were given a 24hr window before our 2nd outing on the world stage. Not surprisingly, our second opponents were another strong outfit who now had the challenge beating the margin of victory set by the Northern Cypriots the day before.
Provence, from their coaching staff, displayed less dignity and respect towards our team than the Northern Cypriots but their players after the game were noble in assembling a guard of honour for our squad and their goalkeeper came to our changing room to give his shirt to our keeper’ Abdelhamid which was a lovely gesture.
The match itself was a step too far, if you are reading this blog and play football or any other sport, the only way I can try to contextualise the gulf is to ask you to imagine taking up a completely new sport, training on a surface that the sport isn’t actually played on, then asking you to play against a professional in that discipline. The opponents were faster, smarter and ruthless. They didn’t hold back on our boys and i’m glad. This is a world cup, not a kick around on Camp DJabal, and the difference is important for the lads and I think in years gone by, will make this trip even more special for them.
I will use this next paragraph to rant about the fourth officials if that is OK? It is? Great. The fourth officials here in our opening two matches have had three objectives in my eyes: 1. To appear more important and influential than they actually are. 2. To have an incapability of facilitating a substitution 3. Possess an ability to annoy me greatly. Well Kurdish FA, if you are assessing the officials against these objectiives, I can recommend that they all pass with flying colours.
Casting my mind back to Sunday night, the eve of our debut in international football, several members of the squad felt that they could win this competition. Even yesterday, following the opening day defeat, I spoke to our striker Mubarak Haggard and said ‘Couis? (You well?)’ He replied ‘Yes, today we do much better’ I said ‘Great!’ He replied, ‘Today coach, we win 5-0!’.
Unfortunately, Mubarak’s prediction didn’t come to fruition and this is perhaps the greatest challenge for Mark and I. On the one hand, the players need to realise who they are up against and the fact that our target of scoring a goal is a much SMARTER target. On the other hand however, the expectations of the coaching staff do need to be realigned also. As a football person throughout my life, I found myself yesterday wanting to shout and bawl at the players, and I lined up a water bottle and wanted to kick it as far as I could in frustration. But, C’mon Ben, this trip isn’t about that, its about encouragement, praise, advice and development of a footballing legacy to last generations in Darfur and beyond. So I promise you this, should a Darfuri player put the ball in the goal, legitimately off his foot, knee, head, backside…I’ll be the proudest football coach on planet earth.