Knocked out but heads high: S.Sudan cheers defeated basketball teamWed, 30 Aug 2023 15:52:20 GMT

As the final whistle rang out, signalling South Sudan’s defeat to Serbia and their elimination from the Basketball World Cup on Wednesday, diehard fan Deng Makuc said he was disappointed but proud.”We have shown (the world) that it’s not only the war that we have in our country, but we can do better in other fields,” the Juba resident told AFP.Ranked 62 in the world, the South Sudanese side stunned China to claim their first-ever victory on Monday during their World Cup debut in Manila — offering their citizens a rare respite from the long-running crises facing the young country.The impoverished, violence-wracked nation won independence from Sudan in 2011, before descending into a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people between 2013 and 2018.South Sudan played their first official international basketball game just six years ago.Hopes were high on Wednesday as hundreds of fans gathered at the Nimra Talata basketball stadium in the capital Juba to cheer the team, blowing vuvuzelas and donning the colours of the national flag while a giant screen broadcast the action from the Philippines.Even the 115-83 loss by their team, which is nicknamed the Bright Stars, did little to dampen their spirits.”For me as a person, I do not care about the outcome. What I care about is the way they have played, the way they have tried and the way they have put us on the map in the world of basketball,” Mary Nyanut told AFP.”I know the best is yet to come,” she added.Others hailed the team’s defeat of China earlier in the week.”We were able to play with the giants of the world,” said Paul Isaac.For “a small country like South Sudan to come and win against China, this is huge”, he added.- ‘The world will know us’ -The team’s rise has been masterminded by Luol Deng, former Chicago Bulls player and now president of the country’s basketball federation.As the team’s coach during the qualifiers, the charismatic double NBA All-Star led the team to a historic qualification for the World Cup. Currently the assistant to head coach Royal Ivey during the World Cup, he is aiming to secure the team a place in the Paris Olympics which will be awarded to the best of five African nations, with Cape Verde, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Angola also in the running.One of the poorest countries on the planet despite large oil reserves, South Sudan has spent almost half of its life as a nation at war and continues to be roiled by outbreaks of politically motivated ethnic violence.But its basketball dreams have brought South Sudan together, with several fans telling AFP the nation was standing as one to cheer the team.”As you can see, there is no tribe, there is no what, people are coming together to support their team,” said Hillary Gaga Michael.”South Sudan’s image in the outside world has been best known for bad things such as war and conflict, (but) our boys there… did remarkable things,” he added.”It is really historic for us as South Sudanese,” he told AFP.”Now the world will know us as basketballers.”strs-amu/txw/bsp