What began as a humble competition to bring African communities together to showcase their cultures while having some fun playing football has turned into a global talent-showcasing competition that has captivated the attention of both fans and scouts.
The African Nations Cup South Australia competition features many amateur and semi-professional players, but along with them, future stars of the world game can be found proudly representing their countries of origin.
Socceroos Awer Mabil and Thomas Deng have both featured in the South Australian competition during their formative years.
Some players have represented their countries in this local competition before getting an opportunity to represent the senior national teams during their professional careers.
Elvis Kamsoba (Burundi), Valentino Yuel, and Kur Kur (both South Sudan) have all featured in this competition, and have since been scouted and selected to represent their countries of origin.
According to director Arsene Iribuka, the quality of the competition has not been ignored by scouts, at home or abroad.
“We have some of the best players in the Country participating in this competition, and year on year the football quality is amazing,” he told The Inner Sanctum.
“We’ve got scouts that come in to witness it in-person; it has gained an international reputation because it showcases some great footballing ability!”
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The competition will be hosted at the newly built State Centre of Football for the first time, and fans can expect much more than just great football on the pitch.
“On the day fans can expect to see a lot of colour and a lot of glamour alongside excellent quality football!” Iribuka stated.
The African Communities Council of South Australia is excited to be hosting the Cup at a brand-new facility, not just for its quality, but for the space available to showcase the unique cultures on display in different ways.
“The best talent deserves the best in terms of facilities, and this is by far the best facility for community football in the state.
“We are proud to have a working relationship with the football governing body in South Australia and together we put out a really good product for players, spectators, and other stakeholders.
“This year we are going to be doing a few things we haven’t done in the past. There is more space, so in addition to African food, we will have African arts and crafts where communities will come to showcase our various cultures which we are really proud of.
“We are fortunate to have a facility with additional space which allow us to showcase that along with the football.”
Like other football competitions around the world, the Cup is endeavouring to grow its participation of women, with Liberia, Burundi, South Sudan and Cameroon fielding teams in 2022.
With the Women’s World Cup on home soil in 2023, Iribuka is hoping that representation may help families who are on the fence about their girls playing because of cultural and religious reasons.
“You can’t be what you can’t see!” Iribuka remarked.
“Given that we are hosting the World Cup, a lot of money has been invested to try and increase participation.
“Hopefully, with this global event being showcased at a local level, there is going to be a spark in interest and it will increase visibility for those families who may be unsure for those reasons mentioned.”
One of the features of this tournament is that even though the core of teams is made up of players of a particular cultural background, the sides are topped up with players of different cultures that are invited to join.
Many non-African players that have taken part in the tournament in the past remark at the culture-filled days they have spent, and the bonds they have created with their newly-found teammates during training or over meals.
This is an invaluable characteristic of a competition in a multicultural country like Australia.
“This is what this competition is about, breaking barriers between people that on the outside may seem different, football has that great ability to bring people together, regardless of their background,” Iribuka said.
Differences exist between people of similar backgrounds as well, and Iribuka stresses that during an event like the African Nations Cup, those differences are set aside for the benefit of the sport that is loved by all.
“As a society, it is very hard to agree on a lot of things, but you will find very few people that will say this is not the best way to bring people together who may not otherwise agree on other issues!
“Sport has a great ability of bringing people together even though they may not see eye to eye. We have a lot of communities who for reasons back home may not see things the same way, but when it comes to football, everyone speaks the same language.”
The Cup’s return after a year off due to restrictions during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic saw over 10 thousand people go through the doors over the two weekends the competition ran in during 2021.
It’s a record that the Council is hoping to topple in 2022.
With Sierra Leone winning in 2021 and Burundi being the runner-up, the competition featured a tantalising and entertaining finals series.
For 2022, Iribuka is expecting the two sides to feature near the top once again, with the Champions a good chance of going back-to-back. He also expects South Sudan and Liberia will be threatening to claim the crown.
Iribuka’s dark horses include Guinea and South Africa, but also a newcomer on the South Australian scene in Cameroon.
“Keep an eye out for Cameroon, they are a new team this year and are trying to establish themselves in the competition,” he tipped.
“They’ve invested a lot of resources in the way they train and may surprise a few people!”
With games spaced out to protect players from overloading, the quality of football should be some of the highest ever displayed in the competition.
The opening ceremony and group stages commence on Thursday, November 3 and continue throughout the weekend. The competition will then reconvenes on Friday, November 11 to finalise the knockout rounds, which will be played on the Saturday.
The men’s and women’s champions will get crowned during the Sunday Grand Finals at Service FM Stadium, with big games being played on the showcase pitch.
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