Stefano Cusin: South Sudan coach calls for his side to be aggressive to compete

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Stefano CusinStefano Cusin took charge of South Sudan last September

South Sudan coach Stefano Cusin says his side must be bold to have a chance of qualifying for next year's Africa Cup of Nations finals.

His team begin their Group G qualifying campaign against The Gambia on Saturday, with the top two in the four-team group securing spots in Ivory Coast.

South Sudan beat Djibouti 5-2 on aggregate in a preliminary round tie back in March to progress to the group phase of qualifying.

"We need to be more aggressive and tactically very organized if we want to be competitive," Cusin told BBC Sport Africa.

"We cannot wait for the opponent in the last 30 metres of the pitch. We need to play to win any game.

"My opinion is that actually in the world there is no small team, so South Sudan can grow and challenge any team."

The Gambia, who also came through the preliminary qualifying round, reached the quarter-finals at this year's Nations Cup in Cameroon

The Scorpions and South Sudan will also come up against Mali and Congo-Brazzaville in Group G.

Mali's Eagles will be favourites to win the group after exiting the Nations Cup in the last 16 and then narrowly missing out on a place at the 2022 World Cup to Tunisia in Africa's play-offs for Qatar.

South Sudan have not qualified for a major tournament since the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, but Cusin is confident his side - which is ranked 161st in the world - is capable of upsetting the odds.

"Yes, the group is very difficult but in football you never know," the 53-year-old Italian said.

"You always need to have hope. I don't think this time it will be easy.

"Most of the 'small' teams are working hard so it will be a great challenge for all of us."

Well-travelled Cusin learning to adapt

Stefano Cusin in training at Ahli Al-KhalilCusin had spells coaching Palestinian club Ahli Al-Khalil in 2015 and 2019

Cusin has plenty of experience in the game from around the globe, having managed in Italy, Bulgaria, Libya, Palestine, United Arab Emirates, Cyprus and Iran.

He joined South Sudan last September, and is drawing on everything he has learned so far in his coaching career.

"I have great memories from Palestine, Libya and the Emirates," he said.

"All are different because in Palestine, for example, it was not easy to work but the people are wonderful there.

"In Libya I had the occasion to coach one the biggest clubs in Africa [Al Ahly Tripoli] and the passion I saw there was fantastic.

"In terms of passion, Africa is the number one! In no continent around the world do you see fans from each team dancing and enjoying the game like in Africa.

"It is unique in the world and this is the football that I like.

"In the Emirates the quality of the pitches, the organization and life are top so they were all great experiences."

He was also assistant to Walter Zenga during the former Italy goalkeeper's short-lived spell in charge of Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2016-17.

"Walter was very important for me and I learned a lot because he is a big name. He changed my vision of planning training," he said.

"After all these experiences I understand there is not only one way to win, but many. I have to adapt my tactical organization to the players I have and not inverse."

Meanwhile, Cusin says football in South Sudan has a difficult challenge to compete with basketball for the affections of people in the country.

"Basketball is the top sport because we have many players in the NBA [in America]," he said.

"In football it is not the same because we need to build players at home. It takes more time, but it is a pleasure to see how we have grown in the past months.

"Football in South Sudan is new. It is the youngest football federation so we need time. But we are going in the right direction and I am sure that one day we will surprise the world."

South Sudan playersSouth Sudan beat Djibouti 5-2 on aggregate to reach the group stage of 2023 Nations Cup qualifying
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