July 12, 2011
A NEW country needs many things: passports, stamps and a currency. For Republic of South Sudan, there was a further priority – a football team.
As part of the independence celebrations, a friendly against a Kenyan premier league team, Tusker, was chosen. But who would play for the new national side? First, a call went out to the four or five southerners who regular represented the old, united Sudan, as it was before succession on Saturday. However, most are contracted to clubs in Khartoum and could not get permission to leave.
But James Joseph could. The veteran striker was playing for a club in Goa, India, when he received the urgent call and paid his own way to Juba, via Dubai and Nairobi.
South Sudan’s goalkeeper makes a save. Photo: AFP
”I felt so lucky to be able to play for my own country at last,” said Joseph, who grew up in Khartoum during the 21-year civil war.
His teammates at the 10-day training camp were all locally based. Among them was Khamis Leiluno, a 23-year-old from Wau, the team captain. He spoke no English – the official working language of the new republic – but was apparently prolific in front of goal. ”We are ready to tell the world that South Sudan is around,” he said.
Translating was midfielder Justin Wani, whose father died in the war with the north. Goalkeeper Yahaya Abas plays for a club in Juba, though not for money. ”Here we play for the love of the game,” he said.
But this game was also about forging unity, said the coach, Malis Soro.
Early, it looked as if they might win. But after taking the lead, his team scored scored two own goals and lost 3-1. Still, the crowd was not unhappy. It had not been a bad weekend.