By: Sean Williams
HARGEISA (Somalilandsun) – You didn’t have to be in Hargeisa Stadium today to know that the country’s biggest match was under way.
In fact you’d have barely had to be in Hargeisa itself to hear the deafening roar that greeted every kick, tackle and card as Maroodi-Jeh defended their regional cup title against city rivals Hawd.
15,000 people packed the capital’s dusty centre stage, thrust into the stadium after some zealous policing.
Due to the tight security the capacity crowd didn’t all fill their seats until halfway through the first period. But when they did, what a racket: rows of rowdy young men puffed out their chests and hollered at the teams while the women, bedizened in multicoloured direh and hijab, screamed and belted out passionate tunes throughout the 90 minutes.
But if the atmosphere was cauldron-like, the players didn’t take the hint: play was scrappy at times and both teams failed to carve out any meaningful chances in the first half; the biggest blood-rush being a rather nasty clash between Maroodi-Jeeh’s goalkeeper and the oncoming Hawd striker. Both men were shown yellow by the referee, who via a series of calm and measured decisions managed to keep the dirty tactics of cup finals old at bay. In fact, apart from a handful of late challenges the game was played in exceptional spirit – surprising for two clans living barely yards apart in the capital.
As the day wore on, the hot Hargeisa sun began to hide behind a deep grey haze that baked the crowd and players, many of whom needed a sit-down at half-time. But after some feverish team talks the 22 men were back out entertaining the crowd. Lining the touchline were some two-dozen television cameras, showing how the media of Somaliland has exploded in recent months. Last year’s game, the first to be televised, was covered by just one station. This year seven made the trip.
But with Somaliland’s, and Africa’s, eyes on the match, again the second half was one of few breathtaking moments. At times it seemed that Maroodi-Jeeh’s more calculated approach would pay off. But both defenses excelled in the heat and when the referee blew for time both teams were still deadlocked at nil-nil.
But the prized regional cup, which sat in a VIP box packed full of political clout including Justice Minister Mr Hussein Ahmed Aided and Minister of Sport Mr Abdi Saeed Raigal, would not stay unclaimed for long. A penalty shoot-out would ensue. But even with all ten scheduled penalties taken neither team could break the deadlock until, after much nail-biting and gasping in the crowd, Hawd’s sixth penalty flew right of the post, sparking wild celebrations from Maroodi-Jeeh’s victors that are will surely last long into tonight. Hawd, battered, bruised and vanquished, lay strewn across the pitch until graciously saluting their fans and applauding their neighbours as they ascended the grandstand and took their trophy for the second year running. Last year Hawd were also the beaten finalists. Maybe it’ll be third time lucky in 2014.
With medals perched upon necks and the regional cup retained, the crowd eked out of the arena, some quietly, others not so. Justice Minister Aided was delighted with the day’s events: It has been a great day. This game is huge for Somaliland. Every year we will get better and better.
“I’m supporting both of the teams. I’m the minister of justice – I have to be even-handed!”
And so concludes another fiercely contested Somaliland Regional Cup. As a football-mad foreigner this reporter has had his fair share of fantastic experiences. But they all may have been topped today. Bring on 2014.
the write Sean Williams is a Freelance journalist, writer, filmmaker currently in Hargeisa Somalilaland