‘He makes us so happy’: Victorian city stands behind its teenage Socceroo World Cup Garang Kuol |  Australia sports

‘He makes us so happy’: Victorian city stands behind its teenage Socceroo World Cup Garang Kuol | Australia sports

Garang Kuol’s aunt is counting down the minutes and hours until she sees her nephew play in the World Cup again.

The 18-year-old, the youngest Socceroo since Harry Kewell in 1996, has a fervent following in his northern Victoria hometown of Shepparton, where the community gathers for the second group stage match on Saturday night.

Agoness Kuol has watched her nephew grow up to play at the highest level, and she says his family and the South Sudanese community in Shepparton couldn’t be more proud.

“He makes us so happy. It makes us feel like we can fly, watching him play at the World Cup. And [we’re] so happy for his parents, who worked so hard for this.

“He has always, always loved playing football, ever since he was in kindergarten. But he is a good boy, he went to church with us and always stayed with his family.”

The South Sudanese community has grown in Shepparton, where just over 17% of the population is foreign born compared to 12.4% for regional Victoria.

Garang Kuol in action at the World Cup
Garang Kuol in action at the World Cup. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Fifa/Getty Images

The communities have created spaces for themselves, including the South Sudanese community, who will host a viewing party for the next Socceroos match at St Paul’s African House.

Kuol says there will be food and dancing before the game, which begins at 9 p.m. local time, and that the community will celebrate regardless of the result.

“We are a very connected community here. We are about 40 families and we all know each other. We all know Garang too and we will pray for him.

“He represents Australia, but also Shepparton and also South Sudan. He has three teams, three groups behind him. And we are all so proud of him.”

Kuol was born in Egypt after his family fled Sudan. They moved to Australia as refugees before settling in Shepparton and becoming part of the community there.

Khadiga Abdalla cooks a range of traditional dishes for the viewing party at St Paul’s African House.

“Everyone is very excited, we’ve been working hard to prepare,” she says. “We are always told we need more seats, more food because more people are coming. But who knows what will happen in the game.

“Saturday night is for everyone – moms, dads, kids, we’ll all be there. No one would miss Garang at the World Cup.”

Abdalla says that her own children know Garang, which makes their pride in Garang’s achievements all the stronger.

“We are all one family, together. My kids were so excited, they haven’t slept for days before the last game and they can’t wait for the second game.

“He plays for all Australian and African children.”

One of Kuol’s first coaches at the Gosford Suns, Craig Carley, tells the Guardian it gives him goosebumps to see the youngster play at the World Cup.

“Every time I’ve seen Garang on TV, the hairs on my arm stand on end because I know how exciting he is. And I know how proud he made people.

Kuol with other players during Australia's training in Doha, Qatar
Kuol during Australia’s training in Doha, Qatar. Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

“He plays without fear,” says Carley. “It doesn’t surprise me in the least what he has achieved… I know he can play at the highest level.”

Shepparton has been represented in the Socceroos before – by Robert Enes in the 1990s – but since then no player has been able to break through the town’s ranks.

The emergence of Kuol, now also picked up by English Premier League club Newcastle, has brought a sense of excitement to the city.

“We are proud to be Australia’s regional capital of sport,” said Shepparton Mayor Shane Sali.

“And to have someone from our own backyard, who grew up here and plays in the juniors, and now on the international stage, is just something special.”

Sali is adamant that Kuol should start Australia’s second group stage match after coming off the bench in the first matchday loss to France.

“For them to win, he has to start. You have to believe in the excitement he brings and cross your fingers that he starts much earlier.

“He’s a generational talent. Turn him on early. We’re all behind him.”

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