Melbourne Victory attacker Kenny Athiu hopes South Sudan’s progression to the group stage of African Cup of Nations Qualification augurs a new era for his homeland.
Athiu started both games for the Bright Stars as they booked their place in the group stages during the most recent international window with his side downing Seychelles 3-1 on aggregate earlier this month.
With the triumphs propelling the world’s youngest state up 11 places to 162 in the latest FIFA World Rankings – the highest since they were ranked 153rd in 2017 – South Sudan will now prepare to compete in a group with Burkina Faso, Uganda and Malawi for a spot at AFCON 2021.
That campaign will kick-off on November 14 when they travel to face Malawi.
Athiu, a bracelet in the colours of the South Sudanese flag taking pride of place on his wrist in the wake of the triumph over Seychelles, is hopeful both the wins and the coming slate of matches will mark the beginning of an extended period of growth and success.
“It feels like the team was getting stronger the last few times I’ve gone out there,” he told FTBL.
“And a few of the other boys that have been there a long time have said the team is improving every time. We’re very optimistic that we can get a few good results to hopefully qualify for the Cup of Nations in 2021.
“I think the sky is the limit, there’s so much potential.
“The only thing holding us back is the grassroots level, there’s no proper setup of stadiums and that since we’ve become independent.
“But we’ve only become independent not too long ago so hopefully we’ll make great strides in our independence and in the next couple of years, once people start investing in the local grounds or local teams and that it can only get bigger.
“I think South Sudan has huge potential to be, hopefully one day, a powerhouse in African football.”