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Newest nation South Sudan proud after debut draw
JUBA — 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.
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.
"The match is very good. It is the first match, and maybe the next one we will win," said South Sudan player Simon James, as he jogged off a pitch where fans clamoured 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.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan on July 9, 2011, after five decades of civil war that killed an estimated 2 million people and scattered the rest into the bush or abroad.
"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.
"Our people have got a lot of problems but they will improve," said Elias Gideon, who hopes the new nation will play in the 2018 World Cup and one day beat the United States.
"Football is a very important game that unites people -- they come and socialise. You see South Sudan and Uganda coming together -- it's a very good game," he said.
"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 as crowds screamed, jumped and hugged one another after the first goal, while a line of people following an excited flagbearer sprinted past.
"I'm very proud because we are a country and it's the first time that we have a national team.
"That's a very patriotic thing -- that a newborn country has a strong team like that," said Igali, who like many others said the team was a symbol of freedom and results were of secondary importance.
"A baby child will not grow within one day. I would support them even if they lost," she said with pride.
"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.
Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved. More »
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