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South Sudanese Basketball Fans Celebrate Historic Qualifier

FILE - South Sudan's Makuei Puondak during a FIBA Afrobasket 2021 pre-qualifier basketball match between Somalia and South Sudan in Nairobi on January 14, 2020.
FILE - South Sudan's Makuei Puondak during a FIBA Afrobasket 2021 pre-qualifier basketball match between Somalia and South Sudan in Nairobi on January 14, 2020.

It is history in the making: The South Sudan men’s basketball team has qualified to compete in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

The historic entrance marks the first time a team from Africa qualified for the world cup in their first attempt. And residents in Juba say they are filled with pride and joy.

"It’s a moment of national unity and celebrations with us coming together as friends to support the South Sudanese team in the tournament. The victory also served as a source of inspiration and motivation for young basketball players including people in my family and friends. And also help raise the profile of basketball in South Sudan," Juba resident Emanuel Bida told VOA.

Bida expects his team to continue performing at high capacity in the next round.

South Sudan beat Senegal 83-75, trounced Egypt 97-77, and annihilated the Democratic Republic of the Congo 101-58 in the qualifying round.

Led by Nuni Omot's team-high 26 points, the win over Senegal ensured that South Sudan would finish as one of the top two teams in Group F.

In the game against Senegal, the two teams were neck-and-neck for much of the game, with South Sudan ahead by one point at half-time.

In August, the team heads to Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia to compete in the world cup.

"The expectation of the South Sudanese team in the FIBA Basketball World Cup will be slightly high, very high given their impressive performance in the qualifying round. However, it will also be a very challenging competition and the team needs to prepare well and work hard to perform at their best," said Bida.

Juba resident Abraham Makuei Ayool said the South Sudan team is creating a positive image of his country, despite its five-year long civil war, continued deadly violence in parts of the country, and the economic crisis.

"The team's hard work and dedication towards this process made South Sudanese happy and grateful for their contribution. The country is very happy for this report and we will never forget to support them in the FIBA World Cup that is coming in August," Ayool said.

Gola Boyoi Gola, president of the South Sudan Youth Union said he is overjoyed by the basketball victory, adding it proves South Sudanese can come together and be proud of their nation.

"It shows that we can be one nation regardless of our tribes or our political differences. And that also shows that sport can play a big role in uniting our nation," Gola said.

"We know that the war has divided us a lot, but I think with this we are yet again to discover ourselves and one nation and one people."

South Sudan entered the African qualifiers game at Al-Ittihad Stadium in Alexandria, Egypt, with an 8–1 record, knowing a single win from any of their three remaining games would be enough to continue.

With two-time NBA All-Star Luol Deng as interim coach and federation president, many South Sudanese believe their team will continue scoring victories in world cup play.

The FIBA World Cup is set to run from Aug. 25 to Sep. 10, 2023, taking place for the first time in three countries.