- South Sudan making incremental progress on FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
- East African nation only eight years old following partition from Sudan
- National team boosted by Australian-based South Sudanese
South Sudan are one of FIFA’s newest Member Associations. In fact, their 2012 inclusion predates only the membership of Kosovo and Gibraltar to world football’s governing body.
As one of the world’s youngest nations – they gained independence from Sudan in 2011 – South Sudan are especially motivated to cultivate their football. That spirit has already seen the east Africans make contextually significant strides on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
The Bright Stars recently reached 162 on the global ranking jumping 11 places in the process. It is still someway short of their highest position of 138 achieved in 2015. It is, however, significant for a nation that has been troubled by civil conflict, and to some degree, is building its football status from scratch.
Not that football doesn’t have a strong history in the region. Neighbouring Sudan are one of the oldest teams on the Mother Continent, notably winning the 1970 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in front of a six-figure crowd in Khartoum.
2019 has already been a big year for South Sudan. They competed in just their second FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign, only narrowly failing to advance with a 1-1 draw and 1-0 away defeat against Equatorial Guinea. It was a marked improvement on a 4-1 aggregate Round 1 defeat four years ago in their Russia 2018 campaign. Equatorial Guinea, coincidentally, was the opponent when the Bright Stars achieved their maiden competition win during Africa Cup of Nations qualifying in 2015.
Last month South Sudan claimed their maiden away competition win, beating Seychelles 1-0 to add to a 2-1 home scoreline. That aggregate victory catapulted South Sudan into the Africa Cup of Nations group stage qualifying for third consecutive edition.
South Sudan have every reason for optimism about the prospects for future growth, with the nation considered to be demographically one of the youngest in the world. They are also constantly being boosted by overseas-based players with a large South Sudanese population having been displaced by years of conflict.
Heading the diaspora are Australian-based players with up to half a dozen squad members hailing from Down Under. Awer Mabil and Thomas Deng have made their mark for the Socceroos – the former starring at this year’s AFC Asian Cup – while several Sudanese are prominent players in Australian Rules football.
The overlap between the two nation’s footballers is significant with South Sudan full-back Peter Deng, older brother of Thomas, having played for the Bright Stars. Leading the attacking line for South Sudan is Kenny Athiu who turns out for the A-League’s best supported club, Melbourne Victory, and grew up alongside the Deng brothers.
“Everyone was really happy for us,” Athiu said recently about the milestone win over Seychelles. “[Football is] one of the things that brings everyone together to support the national team.
“I think South Sudan has huge potential to be, hopefully one day, a powerhouse in African football. We’ve only become independent not too long ago so hopefully we’ll make great strides in our independence and in the next couple of years, once people start investing in the local grounds or local teams, it can only get bigger.”