SYDNEY, Nov 3 (Reuters) – Garang Kuol has yet to start a single senior game of football but some in Australia believe the teenage striker could have the same impact for the Socceroos in Qatar as Michael Owen had for England at a similar age in the 1998 World Cup in France.
Owen was already an established first team player at Liverpool when he lit up his first finals with a stunning goal against Argentina but 18-year-old Kuol is undeniably blessed with similar blinding pace, touch and self-confidence.
Kuol became the youngest Socceroo since Harry Kewell when he won his first cap off the bench in 2-0 friendly win over New Zealand in September and had an immediate impact with a decisive role in the move that led to Australia’s second goal.
That was an echo of his cameo in the A-League All Stars exhibition match against Barcelona in May when he bamboozled jet-lagged Spanish defenders apparently at will to leave Xavi impressed with his “obvious talent”.
The Egypt-born striker earned his place in Dwight Yorke’s All-Star team on the back of four goals in seven substitute appearances for the Central Coast Mariners that helped fire the club into the A-League playoffs.
“I think as an athlete, mentality is key,” Kuol said of his approach to the game after his international call-up a few days before his 18th birthday.
“Regardless of age, if you go in all guns blazing wanting to prove yourself and being ruthless, you can achieve whatever you want.”
Growing up in rural Victoria as one of five boys in a refugee family, Kuol followed his older brother Alou, now on the books of Bundesliga club VfB Stuttgart, to the Mariners academy in the Sydney commuter town of Gosford.
His A-League career is destined to be short, however, as in late September he signed a deal to move to Premier League club Newcastle United, another of Owen’s former teams, in the January transfer window.
Kuol is one of three players born in African refugee camps to South Sudanese parents who are likely to be in Graham Arnold’s squad for the World Cup, along with winger Awer Mabil and defender Thomas Deng.
Life can be tough for African refugees in Australia and Kuol’s hope is that the profile the trio enjoy will prove an inspiration to other youngsters in the community.
“It’s good to see fellow African footballers make their way because it gives us hope that we can do something with our lives,” he told ABC in September.
Editing by Ken Ferris
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