The Australian national football team has always represented the waves of migration arriving in the country, and African-born Thomas Deng, Awer Mabil and Garang Kuol are proud to represent some of the newcomers at their first World Cup.
All three, born in refugee camps to South Sudanese parents, have come an unusually hard road to reach football’s biggest stage, and they hope their example will inspire others in Australia’s African community.
“It drives us, motivates us to do better, especially having so many little kids watching us,” defender Deng told reporters at the team’s training camp on Friday. “They see us as role models. We are happy to be in this position, to give them a path and to show them that your dreams are possible as long as you work hard for them.”
Life can be tough for African refugees in Australia and winger Mabil hopes the trio’s presence in the squad will have a special impact on the youngsters.
“Sometimes it’s easy to go down the wrong path, but … you can see people from your community representing a country like that,” he said. “I think it’s something that I, as a kid, wanted to see, someone from our community showing that way, so for us the only motivation is to try to reach higher.”
Mabil said that his shared experience had created a close bond between the three players and that they are proud to have the platform to talk about it.
“We understand the sacrifices our families have made and we have very similar stories, which is probably why we are always close to each other,” he added. “It’s good that we’re talking and answering questions so Australia can get to know our stories and get to know our culture and who we are.”
The teenager Kuol is the subject of great anticipation after his signing for Newcastle United of the English Premier League, despite not having played any professional games.
The 18-year-old striker says he tends to ignore the noise around him, but is clear on what he expects from his current high profile.
“It’s something I’m very aware of,” he said. “I just want to show other kids, especially South Sudanese around the world, that you can do something if you work.”
Australia will begin their World Cup run in Group D against defending champion France on Tuesday.