By Bereket Kidane,
The wait is over. Henok Goitom, the star center forward, and seven other players of Eritrean origin with dual nationalities will make their debut for Eritrea’s national soccer team “the Red Sea Camels” on Saturday against Botswana for the first leg of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia qualifying match in Asmara.
The second leg of the qualifying fixture will be held in Botswana after three days on October 13th. The referee squad will be Ibrahim Nur El Din, and his assistants Ayman Degaish and Ahmed Abou, all from Egypt.
Henok Goitom met FIFA’s eligibility and was cleared this week to play for the Team Eritrea, where his parents were born and raised. FIFA’s eligibility rule requires a player to demonstrate a “clear connection” to any country they wish to represent in international matches. Easy breezy for Henok and the other stars to show their clear connection to Eritrea.
Henok is the biggest star of them all. The 31-year old Swedish-Eritrean was born in Solna, Stockholm County and raised in Husby. In his Serie A debut for Udinese Calcio in the Italian league on February 19, 2005, Henok only needed seven minutes to score a 1-1 equalizer against Inter Milan.
Henok Goitom was a regular starter for the Swedish under-21 national team in 2006, and played for the Swedish national team for the 2006 and 2007 UEFA European Championships qualifying matches. He was on the verge of breaking into the full starting squad for the 2006 FIFA World Cup but narrowly missed the final cut.
Henok Goitom becomes the latest international star to play for more than one country joining players like Daniel Brailovsky, who played for Uruguay youth teams, Argentina and later for Israel, Gordon Hodgson for England and South Africa, Antar Yahia for France under-18s and later Algeria, and Sone Aluko for England under-19s and Nigeria. Further back in time there were names like Luis Monti, who played for Argentina and Italy and has the distinction of having played in two FIFA World Cup final matches with two different teams. Mr. Monti was a native of Argentina but his parents were from Italy.
Henok Goitom currently plays professionally for his hometown club AIK Fotball in the Allsvenskan where he is the top scorer in the league. Most of his career, however, was spent in the Spanish La Liga with Ciudad Murcia, Real Murcia, Valladolid and Almeria. Henok was a proven goal scorer and a star in his own right in the Spanish La Liga.
At the airport seeing Senai and Henok off to Asmara . bonvoyage! pic.twitter.com/Z4wLTikjK0
— Yonas Manna (@YonasManna) October 6, 2015
Henok Goitom and the other stars will make their debut in Eritrea’s national team uniform this weekend. What a milestone event that will be for soccer in Eritrea. Soccer has a long history in Eritrea with passionate fans. It certainly will be a very proud moment for the athletes and their parents who hail from Eritrea but now live overseas. They are already international stars but they will be treated as local heroes. If one has to guess, it will feel like a pilgrimage for those who may be coming to Eritrea for the first time. Unlike the European or American cities they live in, in Eritrea they can see themselves coming and going because everyone will look like them.
We wish Henok and the other stars much success in their debut with the Red Sea Camels. One hopes that Henok and the other international stars will continue their involvement with soccer in Eritrea after the games are over.
Henok should start a soccer academy that bears his name perhaps (Henok’s Kids) and transfer the skills he has attained to the youngsters of Eritrea so that they too can grow up and follow in his footsteps and become international stars. It would be a good way for Henok to leave a lasting legacy in the country where his ancestors hail from. He will have no problem raising funds from the diaspora as long as the soccer academy bears his name. It would be for a darn good cause that he and his parents can be proud of. Just an idea, Henok. Think about it.
The remaining seven professional footballers who have already arrived Asmara to play for the glory of their native country Eritrea are:
- Mebrahtu Golgol (Western Sydney Wanders)
- Amir Idris (Pontefraet Collieries)
- Hassan Idris (Pontefraet Collieries)
- Samyuma Alexander (Al-Murqani)
- Filimon Kibrom (Nuneaton Griff)
- Sirak Beyene (London Tigers FC)
- Senai Berhane (Sundbyberg)