Awer Mabil will complete a remarkable journey from a refugee camp to the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet when he lines up for Australia at the World Cup, overcoming personal tragedy along the way.
The winger’s rise from humble beginnings is the stuff of dreams and the 27-year-old, who plays in La Liga for Cádiz, has never forgotten where he comes from.
“Obviously that was the foundation for me. It gave me a lot of values that I still carry to this day,” he told Australian broadcaster SBS of his youth.
“One of the main things is humility – always being humble – that’s what I learned from being in that environment at that age.”
Mabil was born in a refugee camp in Kenya after his parents fled conflict in Sudan, surviving on one meal a day as a child and playing ball – usually a sock filled with plastic bags – barefoot to get through time.
“I was born in a hut, a small hut. My hotel room is definitely bigger than the hut, the room we had as a family in this refugee camp,” he said.
“For Australia to take us in and resettle us, it has given me, my siblings and all my family a chance to live. That’s what I mean by thanking the Australia for this chance in life, this chance they gave my family.”
After being resettled in Australia in 2006, with the help of his uncle, he developed his football enough to join A-League club Adelaide United, becoming one of their youngest debutants at 17 years and 118 days. .
In 2015, he moved to Europe with Danish side Midtjylland, playing a part in their title-winning campaign in 2020 and fulfilling his life’s dream of being in the UEFA Champions League.
After stints in Portugal and Turkey, Mabil has secured a free transfer to Cadiz this year.
While his club career was a bit of an itinerant one, he was a regular for the Socceroos under manager Graham Arnold and played 29 times for Australia, scoring eight goals.
He scored on his debut in 2018, a memorable game for Mabil and his childhood friend Thomas Deng, both refugees from South Sudan, making their international debuts in the same match.
Unlike Mabil, injuries have derailed defender Deng’s Socceroos career, although he was recently called up to Australia’s side for September’s friendlies against New Zealand.
Mabil faced another huge challenge in 2019 when his teenage sister was killed in a car crash while he was in Abu Dhabi with the Socceroos at the Asian Cup, leaving him devastated.
He was, however, a crucial cog in the Australian squad that secured passage to Qatar and a fifth consecutive World Cup.
Mabil was the hero as he converted a sudden death penalty against Peru in their intercontinental play-off in June.
He called it a thank you to Australia for giving him a home.
“He dreamed that one day…he would play at a World Cup and represent Australia,” Mabil’s uncle Peter Kuereng told reporters.
“At the age of 11, that’s when he had this vision. This dream is now realized.
Australia kick off their World Cup campaign against defending champions France in Group D on November 22 before taking on Tunisia and then Denmark.
They only made it past the group stage once, in 2006, when they qualified for the round of 16.