South Sudan FA hopes football 'can stop the war'

By Piers EdwardsBBC Sport
South Sudan's national football team
South Sudan joined international football only three years ago

Football can help bring peace to war-torn South Sudan, the president of the country's FA believes.

Chabur Goc Alei was speaking after the widespread celebrations that greeted a first competitive victory for the world's newest nation.

On Saturday South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, beat this year's Africa Cup of Nations semi-finalists Equatorial Guinea 1-0 in Juba.

"Through football, we can stop the war," Chabur told BBC Sport.

"In football, we are talking about a peaceful nation because we don't have tribes or political parties."

The victory for South Sudan, a Fifa member since 2012, came in a qualifier for the 2017 Nations Cup.

The country has enjoyed little peace since it seceded from Sudan, with the country descending into crisis in December 2013.

This was sparked by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former vice-president Riek Machar, who now leads the rebels.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and left more than two million homeless.

President Salva Kiir (l) and rebel leader Riek Machar (r)
President Salva Kiir (l) and rebel leader Riek Machar (r) agreed a truce last month

Despite the clear troubles, Chabur is hopeful that the national football team - which is represented by various tribes - can smooth the path to peace.

"The reaction on Saturday night was amazing because all the people of South Sudan became one in one day," he said.

"We passed a good message that in sport, all of us are one.

"Still now, I am receiving messages from people outside of my tribe and political background.

"Even the rebels who are fighting the government were celebrating this victory, because the win was in the name of South Sudan - not any tribe or political party.

"It was a gift from the national team to the people of South Sudan, and we hope to repeat it because we promised that we can bring unity and harmony to South Sudan."

Last month a peace deal was signed between the government and rebel forces but many question whether the agreement will hold given the collapse of at least seven previous ceasefire treaties.

Meanwhile, the win over Equatorial Guinea has lifted South Sudan to second in Group C, with three points, one behind table-toppers Mali.

The historic victory came in South Sudan's 10th competitive game, but their very first on home soil.

Atak Lual's goal was the first the team had managed in seven games.

Despite their poor recent form, Chabur is hoping that South Sudan can achieve the near-impossible by finishing top of their group to qualify for the 2017 Nations Cup, which will be held in Gabon.

"We still have a lot of games and a lot of work to do to reach that step, but we hope we can qualify for the first time in 2017," he ventured.

"This victory is going to help us in our Fifa ranking (currently, 198th out of 209) and it can also help the development of football in the country, and our players too."

South Sudan's next Nations Cup qualifiers come in March when they host Benin before facing the same opposition in Cotonou a few days later.

South Sudan FA president Chabur Goc Alei
Chabur has presided over the South Sudan FA since 2012

Prior to that, they play Mauritania on a home-and-away basis next month as the teams meet in the preliminary round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

"We hope to repeat victory when we play Mauritania in October. All of us are now talking about game and the need to win it," said Chabur.

"The political situation has affected football and sport in general, as well as other cultural activities, because when you are in war the government cannot do a lot of things concerning entertainment.

"They have a lot of priorities so politics is affecting sports, but we need to look forward to having calm and peace - and then we can do our sporting activities in harmony."

Only the 13 group winners and two best second-placed teams will qualify for the 2017 Nations Cup finals.

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