“In South Sudan, football is more than a game. It is the thing that brings people together in this new country of many contradictions and divisions,” says Stefano Cusin, the coach of the East African country.
The Italian trainer made the observation ahead of the start of the group phase of their 2023 TotalEnergies qualifiers on Saturday when they take on Gambia.
”Football is a real added value that goes beyond the game. During the (preliminary) qualifier against Djibouti, it was the first time that I saw people come out with the national flag – united in a spontaneous way. Football can really help change things in this country,’ South Sudan coach told CAFOnline.com.
“It’s hard to explain. In this new country, football can really help,” he insisted when boarding a flight on Tuesday from Casablanca to Dakar where they take on the Gambians after their brief camp in the United Arab Emirates in preparation for the game.
He stated that the objective for the match against the Scorpions of Gambia ‘is to do better than before’ against the opponents that reached the quarter-finals of the recent AFCON.
“We have a young team, we are in the process of building, so there is no point in setting big ambitious goals. On the contrary, we have to go game by game and try to grow,” explained the tactician who took over the side in September last year.
“And the match against Gambia, is a good barometer in the sense that we will know more about our level. We will face Gambia and also Mali and Congo who are all big names in African football,” he said.
Despite the respect Cusin has for what Gambia achieved at the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon, the Italian says South Sudan will be on pushovers when they clash on Saturday.
“It will be very difficult but we have no apprehension, we are not afraid of anyone, we will play the match with all the effort required,” said the native of Florence in central Italy.
“We studied Gambia well. A lot of their players play in Italy and there are strong individuals in their squad too.Against this great team, it will be a way to take a step forward.
“Their players have been playing together for several years and coach Tom Saintfiet has been in charge for several years. He knows Africa.
“So in summary it will be a clash between a team with life and experience and ours is made up of local players where there will be freshness and enthusiasm.
“It will be a good game and we will be 100 percent,” he assured.