Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, October 8, 2015



It's hard to believe that countries are already playing qualifying games for the 2018 World Cup. But, it's true: Preliminary matches began over the weekend.  The top teams then receive an invitation to the regional tournaments. And nowhere is the competition more fierce than in Africa. A whopping fifty-three teams vie for only five spots. Do the math: Only 9% of the nations get to advance to the BIG DANCE. This is the smallest percentage for any of the six FIFA Regions.

While Algeria has the best odds of advancing, all eyes are focused on the newest member in the AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS tourney: South Sudan. As you'll remember from a previous blog, this landlocked nation declared independence in 2011, and is the youngest country on earth. It began well: South Sudan unveiled a fun flag, impressive coat of arms, national anthem, etc. But then the reality of establishing a new economy and delivering services to an already impoverished population proved vexing. Today, South Sudan has the highest score on the Fragile States Index, the lowest rate of female literacy and a GNP so small we can't find a font that tiny. In short, this nation ranks on the bottom of just about any list.

How bad is it in South Sudan? Juba...the world's newest national capital..was once a bustling port city on the banks of the White Nile River. Unfortunately, there is little cargo moving today. Since independence, internal strife has ripped the young nation of South Sudan apart. This means the few roads, bridges and docks have been blown up by one group or another. How short lived was the joy of independence? Everyone cheered on September 5, 2011, when the first baby was born in the new nation: An aptly named boy: Independent Moses Nunuh. Sadly, he died before his first birthday....a common fate in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Nonetheless, the South Sudanese want to show the world they can accomplish one important thing: Making it to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. First, they assembled a team and hired a coach from Korea, Lee Sung-Jea. He's managed to take the young, raw talent of the Lions and turn them into an organized unit. Last month, they won their first-ever competitive game, barely edging Equatorial Guinea 1-0. Atak Lual accounted for the lone goal. Yesterday...after a 24 hour rain delay...South Sudan played their first ever FIFA match and tied Mauritania 1-1. They must win or tie against Djibouti (easy) and Malawi (hard) to advance.

But the real story here isn't on the soccer pitch...it's the people in the stadium seats. The simple fact that 20,000 people packed into the crumbling old stadium in this struggling slum of a city is reason for hope and cheer. While it's easy to find fault in the much maligned FIFA...corrupt, racist and arrogant...We here at the DUNER BLOG give them respect. Let's face it: More nations take part in the International Soccer Tourney than nations present at the UN. Although the odds are phenomenally stacked against South Sudan, just showing up to play should count as a win!

No comments:

Post a Comment