Orphaned junior Bright Star kickoff preps for AFCON 2023
The national under-20 men’s football team kicked off the preparation for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, albeit without a proper leadership structure.
The team reported to the camp a day after head coach Charles John Gait was relieved of his duties, 30 days before the event kicked off in Cairo.
Gait was sacked by the South Sudan Football Association (SSFA), together with his assistant Deng Abukalam Bak.
The move that caught the country flat-footed left an orphaned squad with punctured confidence as they begin the journey to their maiden continental tournament.
Twenty players, a majority of whom participated in the qualification in Sudan, assembled at the Buluk playground under the leadership of caretaker coach Stefano Cusin.
Cusin, the head coach of the senior team, took the junior Bright Stars through their paces even though their body language spoke loudly of the bigger problem in the squad.
Those in the know say the infighting in the dressing room, which also saw the team miss their return flight from Sudan after the qualifiers, could have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
But with the competition underway next month, it still remains unclear when the association will announce a replacement.
A prolonged delay to have a complete tent replacement could reduce South Sudan’s slim chances of making an impression in her maiden appearance at a continental stage of this magnitude.
Although he claimed it was an administrative decision, Charles Udwar, the SSFA vice president, was tight-lipped when asked why the federation affected the changes.
“The issue of terminating the contract of the U20 head coach and assistant is a different issue, we are here for two agendas only; the South Sudan Cup draw and awarding our referees,” Udwar said during the South Sudan Cup.
South Sudan is in Group B alongside neighbours Uganda, the Central African Republic, and Congo Brazzaville.
The tournament will take place in the Egyptian cities of Cairo, Alexandria, and Ismailia from February 19 to March 11.