FROM REFUGEE CAMP TO QATAR: How Awer Mabil Became the First South Sudanese National to Play at the FIFA World Cup Finals

Over the years, for lack of political stability in certain parts of our dear continent, we have had to deal with the loss of some of our brightest talents who moved to other nations of the world. This trend particularly leaves much to be worried about, especially as we often hear of the success stories of some of these talented individuals who go on to represent their new countries in international tournaments and win laurels.

The last has certainly not being heard of this kind of 'grass to grace' stories, and a certain Awer Mabil, a citizen of one of the youngest nations in the world - South Sudan, is one individual who is now at the peak of his pro football career despite the 'difficult' circumstances of his early life growing up in a refugee camp many miles away from home
Awer Mabil's road to football stardom reads like a movie scripted in Hollywood. Now 27, the Socceroos winger and La Liga star with Cadiz in Spain was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and grew up in a hut where he was surrounded by death and disease, and surviving each day was a win in itself.

With the civil war in his home nation showing no signs of ending, the Mabil family moved to Australia in 2006 when Awer was 10, in search of a new life. Football became Mabil's savior - as communicating with fellow students came with its challenges.

'It was tough at the start, because we came here and didn't speak any English at all,' he recalled. 'I like to talk to people but I couldn't communicate with anyone, so it was weird and I was an angry kid at the start and short-tempered. If I didn't play football, I wouldn't listen and didn't care who was talking. So football was like a savior for me and it was a way I could communicate.'
Awer celebrates after sending Australia to the World Cup from the spot
The Mabil family
Awer on his debut for Adelaide
While settling down fast in Australia, Mabil quickly found himself playing junior football with St Augustine's and Playford City before joining top flight club Adelaide where he made his debut in 2013, and quickly became a standout due to his electric pace and eye for goal.

He soon moved to Europe, and his first move was to FC Midtjylland in Denmark back in 2015. Happy to soak up as many experiences as possible, Mabil was sent to Esbjerg fB on loan in Denmark and also enjoyed a stint at F.C. Paços de Ferreira in Portugal. Mabil soon returned to break into the FC Midtjylland first team, winning the title in the 2019-20 season and later played in the UEFA Champions League. The highlights kept coming, earning his maiden cap for the senior football team of Australia against Kuwait in 2019 - where Mabil scored on debut in a 4-0 win.
Awer, with Grandmother
Famously, he slotted a penalty in the epic shoot-out win over Peru in the qualifiers for Qatar, and when selected by Graham Arnold will create his own slice of history at the World Cup in Qatar come November.

Being the first South Sudanese national to compete at the world's biggest sporting event will be a feat not lost on the winger, who always plays the game with a smile on his face. Away from football, Mabil established Barefoot to Boots with his brother in Kakuma to ensure better 'health, education, and gender equality' outcomes for refugees.

The organization continues to flourish, and Mabil is the hero in the eyes of countless starry-eyed youngsters. His uncle Peter Kuereng summed up Mabil best - 'it has been a journey... and means a lot to Awer,' he said 'In spite of many challenges, he made it.'.