As one of the newest countries in the world, South Sudan wasted little time in joining FIFA, and just a year after being formed in 2011 the country's football federation was welcomed into the world footballing family. They played their first international friendly in July 2012, drawing 2-2 with Uganda. James Moga is one of several players to have played international senior football for two different countries, having represented Sudan until throwing in his lot with the new country, and the India-based player instantly gained fame by scoring South Sudan's first international goal.
Moga recently told FIFA.com that he will never forget pulling on the new strip for the first time. "It was a terrific feeling when I played my first game for South Sudan. It is your own country and passion oozed. The feeling goes beyond just words, it goes much deeper,” he said. “It was not an easy struggle for us to gain political independence and once we achieved it, it was a matter of pride to enact a similar struggle on the field of play.
"When I heard the national anthem, I literally cried. It was a dream come true. Similarly, when I scored, it was like a dream come true. I thought before the match about scoring, so when it happened it was just wonderful."
Improving and learning
The 29-year-old admits that South Sudan will be playing catch-up with their neighbours and brothers in the north for a while. "Honestly, in the north is where footballers are grown. The conditions are good, people support the players and officials know about the game. I played with them for eight years, people there care about football. It is the first sport. In comparison, in South Sudan people have only just come out of a civil war. This war has been a preoccupation for such a long time. The first sport in South Sudan is basketball because the players are tall and can easily adapt to the game."
Moga is, however, confident, that the situation will change in the future. "The [South Sudan] government of late has begun to keenly look into other sports with a focus on football. They have seen all the different championships and realised how important the sport is. I think over the next three-four years things will be different. We have the quality, our players are skilful. Now, they need the experience of playing together continuously. Presently there are only four who were part of the north side, we are now mixing that experience with the other players with a view towards developing the side."
When I heard the national anthem, I literally cried. It was a dream come true.
He believes that the country can improve as a footballing nation with enough support and patience. "Players need time as one cannot develop overnight. Any building process needs patience. The next four to five years will be a huge test for South Sudan. Losing will be part of the journey, which is a test that needs support with the final aim being improvement and building a strong football nation."
As one of the most experienced players in the side, he knows that he is one of the players who can guide his team-mates. "Our captain Richard Justin also fits that role. He was the captain in the Sudan side and now captains our side. In terms of international experience, I am behind him, but I have played nine years of professional football."
The example of Burkina Faso
Moga moved to India and joined Sporting Clube de Goa in 2011, before signing for Pune FC a year later. "Pune appealed to me when I first visited the city in the 2011/12 season. It’s a nice place to stay. I liked the way they play. They are quite professional, different from other clubs, though I had other options. I think the club can go far in the I-League. We receive good support from all officials and have a good coach."
The player admits that he misses South Sudan, even if he has adapted well to living in India. "Home will always be home. When my family arrives in India - hopefully soon - it will be even easier. Because of the education of the children, my wife, two daughters (aged seven and two years) and my twin sons (aged five and a half years) reside in Kampala."
Moga says that South Sudan should look to the changing landscape of African football for inspiration. "African football today is no longer like the past,” he said. “Burkina Faso, nobody knew them, but they played the final of the African Cup of Nations against Nigeria. Our chance will come and then we have to take it. We will wait for it, but it does not come without working hard."
FIFA will also be playing their part in developing football in the country, and last year the FIFA Development Committee approved a one-million US Dollars fund to build a footballing headquarters and technical centre. Although work on these has not yet started, FIFA will this month also be involved in helping with football governance and be discussing finances and identifying priorities, including the infrastructure projects approved last year.