National soccer team to play in AFCON for the first time

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South Sudan’s national football team, Bright Star, leaves Juba today for Maputo, where it will participate in its first ever African Cup of Nations (AFCON) competition on Sunday, 18 May.

South Sudan’s national football team, Bright Star, leaves Juba today for Maputo, where it will participate in its first ever African Cup of Nations (AFCON) competition on Sunday, 18 May.

The team, ranked 201 (out of 207) by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA), will lock horns with Mozambique’s Os Mambas team at the Stadio do Zimpeto in a two-leg preliminary series of games.

Officials and players of Bright Star have described the team as a “common denominator” in unifying Africa’s newest nation, which has been torn apart by armed conflict, humanitarian crises and cattle raids.

“Here is a team blended with talents from across country,” South Sudan Football Association President Chabur Alei said. “Sports has no barrier, doesn’t know tribes, but is a unit doomed to bring people together.”

The president termed South Sudan’s participation as a unique opportunity and conduit for peace. “This will not just bring South Sudanese together but will also help improve relations with neighbors such as Sudan.”

“Our return leg will be played in Khartoum,” Mr. Alei said. “Khartoum clubs have released our players (currently playing for Sudanese teams) to come and play (for South Sudan). This is a good signal for unity.”

Bright Star captain Richard Justin Lado joined other players in calling on South Sudanese to unite like the team. “No one in this team feels … Nuer, Dinka, Bari, Murle and the rest. We are one body aiming at one goal.”

Bright Star South Korean Coach Sung-Jea Lee said he hopes the team members will serve as peace ambassadors.

The return leg game will be played at Khartoum National Stadium in two weeks. The overall point winner will play the winner of Tanzania and Zimbawe for the right to join qualified teams of Group F, which comprises Zambia, Niger and Cape Verde Islands, as the road to the Morocco 2015 AFCON actually begins.

UNMISS presented t-shirts and caps to players and officials in a ceremony that took place yesterday.

Meanwhile, Confederation of African Football (CAF) first Football Centre of Excellence was officially opened on 5th May by CAF president Issa Hayatou and FIFA president Sepp Blatter in Yaounde, Cameroon.

CAF president Hayatou said the development represented a massive leap for the continent's soccer development. Similar centers will be opened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Dakar, Senegal in the coming months.

(Original by UNMISS. Additional information and editing by TCT)

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