South Sudan national team: when football lives down civil war
The adventure of the last national team affiliated to FIFA, with an interview to their more representative player.
Do you know which one is the youngest state of the world? With the resolution number A/RES/65/308 adopted by the General Assembly on July the 13th 2011 the Republic of South Sudan officially has become, by acclamation, the 193rd member of the United Nations. Montenegro had been the last state to join the great family of the UN, before South Sudan did.
The birth of the young African state has had a troubled genesis: there were years of civil war in Sudan between the North (Muslim) and the South (Christian and animist) that ended (at least on paper) with the peace treaties of 2005. These agreements had their outlet in the popular referendum that was held in January 2011. It marked the split between the southern region and the central government of Khartoum. To celebrate the birth of the new South Sudan, the day after the declaration of independence, July 10th 2011 there was a football match at the stadium in Juba, the capital of the newly born state.
On the opposite sides of the pitch the new national team of South Sudan and the Tusker FC team from Kenya. An entire rejoicing people poured out into Juba Stadium, able to accommodate about 12,000 spectators, just to be present at a historic event. The home squad was not the best possible: some Sudanese clubs didn’t give the green light for their players to take part in a match arranged suddenly and in a hurry (you can find the video of the match here).
From that first game, the coach of South Sudan national team is the Serbian Zoran Djordjevic, a real globetrotter like his compatriot Bora Milutinovic. Football led him, first as a player and then as a coach, to touch the shores of the most unusual sates: from Bangladesh to Iran, from the Philippines to Saudi Arabia, from Yemen to this newborn African state. The 23 years old striker Khamis Leiluno wore the captain arm band during that first match.
But the first goal for South Sudan was scored by Joseph James Saeed Moga, the most representative player of the newly formed national team, who plays for the Pune FC, an Indian club. James was born in Nimule city, 29 years old, has played in teams of Sudan, Oman and Bangladesh, before arriving at the top division in India. Exactly one year after that match, on July 10th 2012, South Sudanese people gather again at Juba Stadium. They celebrate two important anniversaries: the first year of independence and the official affiliation to FIFA (video here). South Sudan is admitted to the great worldwide family of football. So the first official international match takes place against Uganda, and the final score is 2-2. The first goal of South Sudan, needless to say, is by James Moga.
The story and the adventure of this newly formed team really fascinated me, to the point that I went in search of Moga, around the world, and I was able to get his contact and interview him, despite clear and obvious language difficulties (which was also highlighted by the envoy of The Guardian who was in Juba for the match against Tusker). Just few questions and short responses, but the clear emotion of those who feel themselves part of a great story. Indeed, of the history, their own country one.
Let me explain that James, before the historical debut with South Sudan, was in the starting eleven on national Sudanese team ; one day he has found himself playing, finally, for the team of the country where he was born, the one he always considered as his own hometown.
How does it feel, at last, to be able to play for the national team of your country?
“It’s a really nice feeling. I never imagined that this dream would come true. ”
How did you feel the first time you played wearing that shirt?
“I thought it was nice to feel at home!”
What do you remember of that first historical goal?
“What I remember is that we scored that goal because we were all very hot for the event.”
What are the aims of a young national team like yours?
“We need time to grow up as a team.”
What can you tell us about your coach, mister Zoran Djordjevic?
“It’s a good trainer. We must give him time to work and support him. ”
Today the political situation in South Sudan is critical: the civil war has returned to stir up the streets, the Sudan state is not prepared to lose the part of the country that is richest in oil wells; refugee camps are full of desperate people. Mortality, according to reports of Doctors Without Borders, has doubled in a year. There is a need for a decisive intervention to resolve a crisis that threatens to grow to catastrophic proportions, such as the one involving the neighboring Darfur.
What can football offer to solve this situation? A little joy. And a little hope.
(@EmaGiulianelli on Twitter)
(appeared on “Stromberg non è un comodino” on September 2012. You can read the Italian language article here)