JUBA - A day after celebrating its country's first birthday, South Sudan's national football team played its first international game on Tuesday against Uganda Cranes at the Juba Stadium and made their fans proud by drawing 2-2 with Uganda Cranes.
On Monday, the Uganda Cranes left for South Sudan in a cheerful mood and promised to teach South Sudan a football lesson when the two sides face off on Tuesday in an international friendly in the capital Juba.
Abudallah Mubiru, one of the coaches of the team that combined of senior and junior players said, “Uganda Cranes have a brand to protect, they will make sure they teach their hosts a football lesson,” he made the statement before the team depart for Juba (South Sudan capital)
"We are going for nothing less than victory," Mubiru continued.
Defender Edward Ssali said, "I am very glad to be given the responsibility of leading the team and we are going for nothing less than a win.”
However Paul Nkata, one of the coaches warned, "this game is very unique for our players because the team will be mixed with senior and junior players. We shall not take the South Sudan team for granted although they are new in serious football."
South Sudan, which is in a celebratory mood for its first independence anniversary from Sudan, are ready to face Cranes and the team enjoy the home support.
Southern Sudanese and Ugandan football fans sit on the wall of the overcrowded Juba Stadium that hosted the first ever South Sudan national football team official FIFA match in Juba, South Sudan. A day after celebrating its country's first birthday, South Sudan's national football team played its first international game on Tuesday and made their fans proud by drawing 2-2 with Uganda. (Credit: AFP)
Noses and fingers pressed to any bit of wire mesh, squeezed onto any stadium wall or balanced precariously atop huge billboard signs overlooking the pitch, the crowd went wild at seeing their nation play its first official game.
"I like it because we have a national team and we have a country," said Margaret Igali, a singer in the national choir who hooted, hugged her fellow singers and made vigorous lasso moves with her hands every time her side advanced.
South Sudan player Simon James said, "the match is very good. It is the first match, and maybe the next one we will win." He jogged off a pitch where fans screamed to get through gaps between riot police to embrace players.
"It's a promising first step," said South Sudan coach Zoran Dordevic.
The Serbian said, “it was very difficult to prepare his players to take on Uganda, a strong east African side that has played many international games together, while his players were still trickling in from teams in Sudan and east Africa just weeks ago.”
"These days South Sudan celebrated its first anniversary, and still there's a lot of painful stories here, a lot of sadness, a lot of people are missing mothers, fathers brothers and sisters. For this reason, this game was like the final of the revolution," Dordevic said.
"The game --- it was very difficult for us as our players are still young and they don't have experience but we just thank God as we drew, and I think the next game will be bigger, and we have our freedom," said striker James Joseph Morgan.
Like the football team, the war-ravaged nation is starting from scratch.
Elias Gideon hopes the new nation will play in the 2018 World Cup and one day beat the United States. “Our people have got a lot of problems but they will improve," Elias said.
"Football is a very important game that unites people -- they come and socialize. You see South Sudan and Uganda coming together -- it's a very good game," he added.
As crowds screamed, jumped and hugged one another after the first goal, while a line of people following an excited flag bearer sprinted past.
"The mood is very vibrant. The people are very happy as they've gained their freedom, and this is one of the new things to come," said Roy Lokungu.
"I'm very proud because we are a country and it's the first time that we have a national team,” Roy added.
However Igali said the team is a symbol of freedom. "That's a very patriotic thing -- that a newborn country has a strong team like that," said Igali.
Igali said, "A baby child will not grow within one day. I would support them even if they lost."
"It's a new team, and we're not disappointed as Uganda has been playing tough matches for years," Lokungu said.
"Genetically, these boys are godly gifted," Dordevic said of the South Sudanese.
He said they only need motivation and support, and especially a football academy for "hundreds and hundreds of talented children."
"I'm sure that very soon, we can show the world that we can play against any top world class team," he said.
George Opiyo, a striker for the Ugandan side, agreed.
"They have something in this country. I can see they are also competitive. If you play football for your country you have to play with your heart and they are doing that," he said.
"Maybe you give them some years to come, they will be the best team in east Africa", he said.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan on July 9, 2011, after five decades of civil war that killed more than 2 million people and displaced more than 2.5 million people around the world.
The Upper Nile Times