Australia’s Awer Mabil, Thomas Deng and Garang Kuol were each born to refugee parents from war-torn South Sudan. On Tuesday, the trio of Socceroos will step onto a World Cup pitch for the first time to take on defending champions France, a nation that has built much of its recent football success on players of African descent.
For Mabil, at 27 the oldest of the three, Tuesday’s fixture at the brand-new Al-Janoub Stadium caps an extraordinary personal journey from the dirt pitches of his childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp to the air-conditioned stadiums of Qatar.
His longtime friend Deng, 25, was also raised in Kenya by parents fleeing conflict in South Sudan, while 18-year-old Kuol – the Socceroos’ most promising talent since Harry Kewell – was still a baby when his refugee family settled in Australia.
At a joint press conference on Friday, the trio said they would not be overawed when they face the title holders in their World Cup opener.
“They're human just like us,” said Mabil, who moved to Australia aged 10 and now plays for Cadiz in La Liga. “Obviously they play at a high level but you can't go to the game thinking, you know, giving them so much respect, because then you've already lost the game,” the winger added.
Coach Graham Arnold's team face a tough task getting out of Group D, which also contains Tunisia and dark horses Denmark, who famously knocked out the mighty French when they last entered a World Cup as title holders, in 2002.
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