South Sudan kick off!
South Sudan’s national football team kicked off to a flying start on Sunday, scoring after 10 minutes, but hopes were soon dashed and the world’s newest nation lost 3-1 in a match that emphasised the hard work needed.
There was a festive mood at the stadium in Juba, fresh on the heels of the country’s long-awaited independence celebrations, with fans waving huge flags and singing the national anthem when their team appeared.
“I feel happy and proud because we have never experienced this before,” said supporter Joseph Gama, 29.
As at the venue of Saturday’s official ceremony, renovation work to get the stadium ready for the friendly — between South Sudan and top Kenyan club Tusker FC — was completed at the eleventh hour, while the team itself was formed just three weeks ago.
The crowd went wild when star striker James Joseph dribbled up the right and crossed to Khamis Leyano, who fired the ball into the back of the Kenyans’ net.
But the tide soon turned, and despite some passionate defending by South Sudan, Tusker outclassed their opponents, who conceded two own goals and were three down by the time the final whistle blew.
“We are so disappointed to lose the first game but our players are young and hopefully the next game we can do better,” said Joseph, 28, who used to be a member of the Sudan national team and will soon go to play in India.
The game was watched by the Minister for Sports Makuac Teny, as well as the cabinet minister and the mayors of Juba and Nairobi.
“It is a great privilege to be here to see the first match be played,” Teny told AFP.
“We want to show to the world that South Sudan has joined the world of sport.
“If they can do this in just 21 days then I think they can go on to achieve a lot more,” Teny said.
The team’s coach Salih Samuel was upbeat about the game, also stressing the lack of prior training.
“Based on the time factor, we are very proud of the team. Of course Tusker is an experienced team. I think it was a fair game. And we are looking forward to improving,” Samuel told reporters after the match.
He said South Sudan was preparing its application to register with FIFA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Southern independence comes after decades of devastating conflict with the north, which exploited rivalries in Sudan’s 60 different ethnic groups by backing splinter militias and making automatic weapons readily available.
The conflict claimed more than two million lives and left the south in ruins.
South Sudan’s leaders hope sports will help bind the new country together, and the national basketball team is due to play its first game on Monday, against Uganda.
Fans refused to let the result of Sunday’s football match dampen their mood.
“I am happy. The Kenyan team has won… but there is nothing wrong with it, as it is just the beginning,” said Ernio Martin, 38.
“The beginning of anything is very difficult… But our hope is so great that very soon we will have a better nation,” he added.