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FIFA Chief, in South Sudan, Promotes ‘New Era of Football’

FIFA's new president, Gianni Infantino, at center-right, stands with South Sudan's Vice President James Wani Igga, right, before a match between South Sudan and Benin, in Juba, March 23, 2016. Infantino came to help open the South Sudan Football Association at a time when the young country's government is struggling for funds due to a drop in worldwide oil prices and an expensive civil war that is in its third year.

New FIFA President Gianni Infantino chose South Sudan for his first stop in Africa, saying he wanted to "kick off a new era of football" and raise standards in the sport otherwise known as soccer.

Infantino, elected three weeks ago as head of the international football governing body, told reporters in Juba on Wednesday that his office would work with South Sudanese football authorities to lift up standards. While in the republic’s capital, he attended a match between South Sudan and Benin, which ended in Benin’s favor, 2 to 1.

The FIFA boss said that he’d met South Sudan President Salva Kiir and that the two discussed football’s status in the struggling country.

Infantino said he also came to Juba to open the newly constructed office of the South Sudan Football Association and to acquaint himself with FIFA projects in the country.

"I came back here of course as FIFA president to watch football, but also to kick off a new era of football, a new era of developing football, which is our mission," he said.

The 45-year-old lawyer and career sports administrator first visited South Sudan early last month while campaigning to become FIFA’s leader.

Setting goals

Infantino vowed to improve football standards across Africa, and in South Sudan in particular.

"South Sudan is one of my priorities," he said. "We will look at the infrastructure we have discussed with the government and the football association and soon we will come up with something concrete that people of South Sudan will be proud of."

Infantino said he wanted to improve South Sudan training grounds and football pitches, and to train more players, especially young boys and girls, as well as referees.

He noted he that the country’s football structure has yet to meet international standards. He said he’s working on that.

Infrastructure challenges

Chabur Goch Alei, president of the South Sudan Football Association, said the challenges facing professional soccer are huge, "starting from infrastructure, training of referees and coaches and the national team supporters and a lot of things."

He said the association would work with FIFA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to "see how to start, step by step," reaching the organizations’ goals. But, he added, "we need time."

Alei urged FIFA to provide financial support to develop football in South Sudan.

Infantino, who holds dual Swiss and Italian nationality, was elected FIFA president on February 26 to replace his controversial predecessor, Sepp Blatter.

Last May, United States prosecutors unsealed an indictment alleging a "World Cup of fraud" in FIFA and arrested a number of senior executives on charges of money laundering and corruption.