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Former Fulham midfielder Lee Clark has urged the footballing world not to write off Sudan ahead of the forthcoming Africa Cup of Nations in an interview with the BBC.

Clark, who spent three months in charge of Sudanese side Al Merrikh last year, feels that the Secretary Birds have the ability to make an impact at their first finals since 2012.

“Sudanese football is on the up. I had a big group of players who were playing a big part in that [national team], so the standard was good, the players were so respectful – very, very hard working, listened to every word you said.”

Clark has been impressed with the standard of Sudanese football and wasn’t as surprised as most people when they shocked South Africa to secure their place at the finals in Cameroon.

I was at the qualification game against South Africa when everyone had Sudan as the underdog, and there they played terrifically well that night, and fully deserved the win to qualify. I think they enjoy the underdog tag, I think they enjoy the experience. They have some very, very talented players – underestimate them at your peril.”

He feels Sudan will rise to the occasion after being drawn in a group with Nigeria, Egypt and Guinea-Bissau.

I think they’ll be excited by coming up against these countries, and they’ll not worry about the challenge. They’ll see it as a great opportunity for them as a country to put themselves on the map and to try and upset the big guys.”

Clark credits the Sudanese FA with forward-thinking policies that have helped develop young talent in the war-torn country.

“Our starting 11 had to include at least one Under-20 player, and one Under-23 player. Even if we substituted those guys, we had to replace them with those age groups as well. I thought that was a really good way of developing young players, not just for the clubs, but also for the national teams.”

Clark, who has previously managed Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City, is currently in charge of Al-Ittihad in Oman.