By Bereket Kidane,
Eritrea’s Red Sea Camels lost to the Zebras of Botswana 2-nil at home this past weekend in a FIFA Qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup Russia in front of a capacity crowd at Cicero Stadium in Asmara.
The Camels team that was put together in a hurry last week, a mix of domestic and Europe-Australia-Canada-Sudan-based players, showed lack of chemistry at times but otherwise played a respectable game in a 2-0 loss.
There were some bright spots for the Camels, however. The Swedish-based Senai Berhane anchored a strong defense and can be the Camel’s Minister of Defense going forward. The Captain, Henok Goitom, narrowly missed a goal at the 4:46 marker on a long pass that he received from Senay but otherwise was slightly out of sync and had no help at all from the mid-field. The only real shots Henok took at the goal post were on long passes that came from Senai in the backfield.
Henok is a great striker as well as an excellent finisher, but there was a noticeable lack of chemistry with the midfield and wingers. He was forced to play farther back than he usually does as a forward so he could help on defense and try to create some opportunities since he didn’t have a set-up man he jelled with. His style of quick, one-touch “Tiki Taka” that the Spanish League is known for was not a natural fit for the current National Team of Eritrea because the other players are not on his level of technical skill. So both he and the offensive players will need to make adjustments because there were some miscommunications on some plays. Practicing some drills, playing together a little more, and testing the team’s level of readiness in friendly matches against regional teams before big international games will help build team chemistry.
Sudan-based players Yonas Solomon (dreadlocks) and Samyomay Alexander showed flashes of brilliance with their impressive ball control, dribbling and passing skills. Once the team jells, they can be part of a great attacking midfield along with Bilal and Mussie. The lack of opportunities created by the midfield was abysmal.
The Zebras, who are coached by former West Ham United player, Peter Butler, showed an amalgam of speed, finesse and physical fitness in their victory against the Camels. The Zebras scored their first goal at the 21 minute marker on a blown coverage by the Camels’ defense. The left winger Galabgwe Moyana was completely unmarked during the corner kick so he was able to score on a header with no one contesting it. The Camels’ didn’t make too many mistakes on defense but the Zebras made them pay for the few mistakes that they did make. The Coaching staff will have to make sure every man on the opposing team is checked by someone on the Camels’ side on Tuesday in Francistown, especially during corner kicks.
We knew the South Africa-based Joel Mogorosi was a player to watch coming into the game. He is one Zebra that kicks hard and scored the second goal for his team at the 65th minute marker on a fast break play.
Overall, it was a good match for the Red Sea Camels. Most of the Camel’s’ starting line-up was composed of domestic players. The domestic players’ level of play certainly exceeded my expectations. The midfielders showed flashes of brilliance but they couldn’t put together a coordinated attack that had a serious punch. Botswana’s goalie was completely untested for most of the game with a serious shot from the Camels, whereas the Camels’ goalie, Isaias H/Ghergish, actually made a couple of great saves.
A big thanks to Eri-TV for transmitting the game live to the diaspora viewing audience. I wasn’t able to see the game live because I was running my Saturday morning errands, but was able to watch it the following day on my phone even though I knew the final score. One constructive criticism for Eri-TV’s color commentating crew is that while they called a decent game overall with their color commentary and analysis, they will need to do a better job in terms of introducing the player’s bios to the TV audience and explaining the line-up. It was hard to know who was domestic and who was a foreign-based player or who played what position on either team. They should list the starting line-up on the screen before the start of the game and also work it in to their color commentary. They were simply referring to the players by their first name without saying anything more or providing any insight about them. Again, this is meant as a constructive criticism for the color commentary crew. More is expected when you call an international game of interest. These are all growing pains that will need to be fixed for the viewing pleasure of Eri-TV’s audience at home and in the diaspora.
The second leg of the match will be played in Francistown, Botswana’s second largest city, this Tuesday in a brand new stadium that opened this summer with a 27,000 seat capacity. The Zebras will have home-field advantage, but the Camels will also have less pressure on them as they will be playing away from home. We will see who kicks harder tomorrow. The Zebras of the Camels?
Some of the mistakes I mentioned above will no doubt be fixed by the coaching staff after watching footage of the game. The Camels will hopefully jell a little more than they did in the first game and put together some coordinated attacks with a punch. Regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, Eritrea’s national team has started the long road back to respectability. With improved coaching, more team chemistry and infusion of Europe-based players to compliment the domestic talent, Eritrea’s national team will be winning big international matches in the not too distant future. International soccer is back in Eritrea. So are the Red Sea Camels. Go Camels! Win a big upset victory for your fans at home and in the diaspora in Francistown tomorrow.