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

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

The 18-year-old, the youngest Socceroo since Harry Kewell in 1996, has a devoted fan base in his hometown of Shepparton in north Victoria, where the community gathers for the second game of the group stage 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 could not be prouder.

“He makes us so happy. We 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 it.

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

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

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

Communities have created spaces for themselves, including the South Sudanese community, which will host a viewing party of the next Socceroos game at St Paul’s African House.

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

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

“He represents Australia but also Shepparton and also South Sudan. He has three teams, three groups behind him. And we’re 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 will cook a range of traditional dishes for the Spectator Party at St Paul’s African House.

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

“Saturday night is for everyone – mums, dads, kids, we’ll all be there. Nobody would miss Garang at the World Cup.”

Abdalla says her own children know Garang, which makes her proud of Garang’s achievements all the stronger.

“We are all a family together. My kids were so excited that they didn’t sleep for days before the last game and can’t wait for the second one.

“He plays for all Australian and African children.”

One of Kuol’s early coaches at the Gosford Suns, Craig Carley, told the Guardian he gets goosebumps watching the youngster play at the World Cup.

“Every time I see Garang on TV, the hair on my arm stands up because I know how exciting he is. And I know how proud he made people.

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

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

Shepparton had featured in the Socceroos before – by Robert Enes in the 1990s – but there hasn’t been a player to break the ranks from the city since.

Kuol’s rise, which now includes English Premier League club Newcastle, has caused excitement in the city.

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

“And to have someone from your own neighborhood who grew up here as a youngster and is now playing on the international stage is just something special.”

Sali is adamant Kuol should start Australia’s second group game after coming on as a substitute in the opening defeat by France.

“For them to win, he has to start. You’ll have to embrace the excitement it brings and keep your fingers crossed that it starts much sooner.

“He’s a generational talent. Catch him up early. We are all behind him.”

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