After Mabil, another refugee footballer writes history

After Mabil, another refugee footballer writes history
Issa Nizigiyimana saved three penalties that saved UNHCR from the jaws of defeat. [Photo: Alex Bullen, City Review]

Just a day after Aweer Mabil, a former South Sudanese refugee cum footballer sent Australia to the 2023 FIFA World Cup with a last kick of the ball from the penalty spot, back at home in Juba, another refugee was

also scripting his piece of the history.

Mabil is a South Sudanese-Australian football professional who grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya. He scored the winning goal against Peru which sent Australia to the World Cup due in December in Qatar.

But while his name is still fresh on the lips of football lovers, here in his motherland, little-known Issa Nizihiyiman, an amateur goalkeeper who once escaped poverty in Burundi mesmerized fans with another outstanding display of talent by saving three penalties in a single shoot-out.

Nizigiyiman, who lives in South Sudan on refugee status, was the goalkeeper for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) team. The UN staff were playing a friendly match against a team of refugees from South Sudan.

Ironically, the match was staged at a FIFA-funded project – Baluk playground – a well-laid artificial grass playing surface that sits quietly between a bamboo-made perimeter wall that guards the facility against external forces.

It acted as a precursor to the 2022 World Refugee Day due on June 20.

“This game made me recall those days when I was among one of the best-known goalkeepers in Burundi,” told City Review after saving three penalties in a shootout.

Little was known about Nizigiyiman until he pulled a jaw-dropping performance on Wednesday.

Nizigiyimana was the man between the sticks and the last line of defence for UNHCR, a side that was just five minutes away from an impending defeat until Wahib Alrayah an equalizer in the 85th minute.

The strike meant that the game had to be settled in a shootout, from 12 yards out, after both sides failed to settle matters in regulation time.

An athletic Nizigiyimana, saved all the three shots, a performance that saved UNHRC staff blushes; an impending embarrassment.

The game ended 3-1 with the humanitarian side as the victors.

“I was a good goalkeeper in those days. If it wasn’t for poverty, I could have become a better goalkeeper in the best teams in my country.

“I believe I can still play some good football if I find somewhere to train” noted Nizigiyiman while reflecting on the missed opportunities.

But this football match made him remember his mother country, a country that he had to flee for his safety only to land in South Sudan, a nation equally struggling with her fair share of challenges, including Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

“I come from a family where everyone has to struggle to put something (food) on the table. So I thought to myself that some of us need to move on somewhere if we are to change our family lives.

“That’s how I found my way to South Sudan in 2013,” Nizigiyimana revealed.

The game also presented Joseph Martin Dibamona, one of the oldest players in the refugee team, an opportunity to relive his youthful days when he used to kick a locally made ball with her age mates while growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dibamona moved to South Sudan as a refugee about seven years back.

He was forced to flee his country for South Sudan due to conflict in DRC.

“I am happy to play with these young boys. I wish such competition would change people’s hearts to give peace a chance to enable these youth to continue practising their talents,” he said.

He said although his group lost the game, they picked valuable lessons even as they remained hopeful that the situation will improve, that they will return home and maybe play a football game with their old friends.

The match attracted a big audience, including top government officials led by South Sudan’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Dr Albino Bol Dhieu.