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FIFA World Cup 2022: Awer Mabil: From refugee camp to playing in the World Cup for Australia

Awer Mabil

Representing your nation is always the pinnacle of a footballer's footballing dreams. And to represent your country at the World Cup? Well, only a few will deny that the feeling of the national anthem playing while you are on the ground in the starting lineup in a World Cup game can be topped by anything else in football.

Generally, most of the players represent a nation by default. Either they were born there or their parents hail from the country. But in the case of Australia's Awer Mabil, that story is a bit different.

Awer Mabil lives in Adelaide these days. He plays his football for the Spanish club Cadiz. But he started his career with Adelaide United, a team that plays in the top tier of Australian football.

But Mabil was not born in Adelaide, rather he was not born in Australia. Mabil was born some 18000 km away from there, at a refugee camp in Kenya. His parents hail from South Sudan and young Mabil spent his first ten years at that refugee camp. They were fed by the UN in that refugee camp and those years of his life were nothing but uncertain, insecure and marred with poverty. Mabil's footballing debut was in that camp, where he used to play with other refugee kids. His family applied for a humanitarian visa and they only reached Australia when he was 10.

"I feel really good. I feel very motivated. I've been working really, really hard to try to be ready for this, because not every day you can get the chance to go to the World Cup," he said recently in an interview.

But how was that road to the World Cup? Well, Mabil joined his first football team at the age of 13, only after he was fluent in English. The player says he had gone through some racism and hatred at first, but he has forgiven all of those as he believes Australia is the country that has given him a new life.

With some decent performances for Adelaide United, Mabil got his first move in Europe in 2015 as Midtjylland signed him. His career in Midtjylland didn't have a rosy start, as the player had to hover around Europe for the next three years. He played for Esbjerg and Pacos de Ferreira on loan before finally settling with Midtjylland in 2018. That was also the year when he made his debut for the Socceroos. Mabil established himself with the Socceroos in time for the Asian Cup in 2019, where he netted two goals, but Australia were knocked out in the quarter-finals.

Hours after that defeat, Mabil had another bolt from the blue as he heard his sister back in Australia died in a car crash. Mabil says the loss of a friend in his sister was a massive blow and he prefers not to speak about that incident anymore.

Awer Mabil Australia

Mabil lives in Australia but hasn't forgotten his birthplace Kenya. He has a foundation named Barefoot to Boots, which raise funds to get boots, football kit and hospital equipment back to Kakuma when he returns to Kenya. He said recently he has a dream to make an academy there.

But for now, its all about Australia and the World Cup. He made his World Cup debut in that 4-1 defeat at the hands of France, then played again in the win over Tunisia. There is every chance for the Socceroos to make it to the round of 16 if they win their final match, or get a draw against Denmark.

And Mabil wants that badly. He wants to give something back to the country that has given him the meaning of life. Mabil has played 31 times for Australia so far and has netted 8 times for them.

"There's nothing that makes me prouder than playing for Australia," he said to The Athletic, "because they gave me and my family a chance - a chance of life, to restart. That for me is something I never take for granted, and my family is forever thankful.

"For me, (playing and winning) is the only way to thank Australia, because I can't say enough how much this country has meant to me. It's my country now," the 27-year-old further added.

His life in Spain with Cadiz hasn't been the easiest as the team is in the relegation zone with Mabil being mostly a fringe player so far, making just 5 appearances. But Mabil surely will overcome that, he has already conquered tougher obstacles.

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Story first published: Monday, November 28, 2022, 10:00 [IST]
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