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Born to refugee parents from South Sudan, the youngest state in the world, devastated by years of civil war, Awer Mabil, Thomas Deng and Garang Kuol will play their world premiere on Tuesday under the colors of Australia against the ‘French team.

Destiny is never written. Awer Mabil, 27, knows something about it. After having experienced the improvised grounds of a refugee camp in Kenya as a child, the young Australian is preparing to set foot on the lawn of the brand new Al-Janoub stadium to face, on Tuesday, November 22, the French team, world champion.

Her friend, Thomas Deng, was also raised in Kenya by parents fleeing the deadly conflict in South Sudan. Garang Kuol, 18, considered Australia’s most promising player since Harry Kewell, was still a baby when his family moved to kangaroo country.

Despite their lack of experience in major international competitions, the trio ensure that they will not be impressed by the defending champions. “They are human, like us,” said Awer Mabil, who joined Australia aged ten and is currently playing for Cadiz in the Spanish La Liga. “Obviously they are very high level players but we cannot enter the field thinking, showing them too much respect, otherwise we have already lost the match”, added the winger, during a conference release on 18 November in Doha.

The Australian coach, Graham Arnold, will however have a lot to do to get out of this group D alive, also made up of Tunisia and Denmark, narrowly eliminated by Croatia in the round of 16 of the last World Cup in Russia.

For their part, Australia have not won a single World Cup match since 2010 and a 2-1 victory against Serbia. In 2006, the Socceroos managed to reach the knockout stages but lost at the last minute of regulation time after an imaginary penalty awarded to Italy. A trauma for the Australians who had delivered a heroic match.

The prodigy Garang Kuol

Narrowly qualified for the 2022 World Cup after a stifling penalty shootout against Peru, Australia hopes to open a new page in its history with its young trio, considered the most promising since the golden generation. Kewells, Vidukas and Cahills.

Among these talented footballers, the prodigy Garang Kuol, the second youngest player of the 2022 World Cup, after the German of Cameroonian origin Youssoufa Moukoko, particularly attracts the attention of the European elite. Newcastle, in the Premier League, has also decided to bet on him in January when he is not even a full member of his club Central Coast Mariners in Australia.

Earlier this year, Garang Kuol also caught the eye of FC Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez after an appearance in a friendly against the Blaugrana in which he netted twice after coming on. of game.

Garang Kuol twirls in the middle of the FC Barcelona defense during a friendly match in Sydney, May 25, 2022.
Garang Kuol twirls in the middle of the FC Barcelona defense during a friendly match in Sydney, May 25, 2022. © David Gray, AFP

“He has great self-confidence and he really has a bright future ahead of him,” predicted his team-mate Thomas Deng, who plays in central defense for Japanese club Albirex Niigata.

Garang Kuol said he does not feel intimidated by the big players he is about to challenge, including France star Kylian Mbappé. “I find it more exciting to compete against players of this caliber,” he said.

“Australia could become the next France”

This change in the face of the Australian team, linked to immigration which has experienced historically high levels in recent years, sometimes gives rise to comparisons with the diversity of the French teams, in particular those who won the World Cup in 1998 and in 2018.

“Immigration to Australia is not that different and it’s starting to show in the ranks of the Socceroos,” says Melbourne newspaper The Age, adding that some commentators are quick to suggest that “Australia could become the next France”.

If we add to the South Sudanese trio Keanu Baccus born in South Africa, four of the 26 Australian players present in Qatar have African origins. But this figure should rapidly increase as the last social barriers that have long kept the poorest immigrants away from sports clubs are erased.

“This is just the beginning,” Awer Mabil wants to believe with The Age. “It’s very interesting for Australian rules football. We’re a very multicultural country and to see that in the national team can be a source of motivation for kids in Africa who can now see what they can become here. “.

During the press conference, Awer Mabil stressed the importance of representing not only Australians but also the children of his community. “When I was a kid, I wanted someone to show me the way. Today, that’s our goal. To always go further to show the way to all these children,” explains the winger.

But Awer Mabil is doing much more than leading the way. He also seeks to bring comfort to young refugees through his association Barefoot to Boots which provides education, medical care and football training to young girls and boys in the Kenyan camp in which he grew up.

“When young people see what Mabil has achieved, the dream comes true,” Ian Smith, board member of Adelaide United, Awer Mabil’s former club, told Australian television before adding: ” Mabil is an extraordinary young man. He has the courage of a lion and the heart of an angel.”

Article translated from English by Grégoire Sauvage. The original can be found here.

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