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Garang Kuol nearly completes Australia miracle comeback vs Argentina, setting mark not seen since Pele

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Australia’s magical run at the 2022 World Cup came to an end, as they fell to a 2-1 defeat despite a courageous effort against a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina.

A goal from the little magician in the first half put the Albiceleste in the lead, before Julian Alvarez capitalised on an error from Australian ‘keeper Maty Ryan to double their advantage, and while an Enzo Fernandez own goal gave Australia hope, they weren’t able to find the crucial equalising goal.

One player who had a late chance for the Socceroos was 18-year-old Garang Kuol, making only his third-ever international appearance. His late shot was brilliantly saved by Argentina custodian Emiliano ‘Dibu’ Martinez, otherwise it would’ve been a sensational equalizer.

While it ended in in disappointment for Kuol and the Socceroos, the teenager did create a piece of history, becoming the youngest player to play in a knockout round match at the World Cup, at the age of 18 years, 79 days, since the legendary Pele who was 17 years, 249 days old when he led Brazil to victory at the 1958 World Cup.

MORE: Argentina vs. Australia Round of 16 report

Who is Garang Kuol?

Garang Kuol is one of Australia’s breakout stars who has experienced a meteoric rise in the last 12 months. He was born in Egypt to South Sudanese parents, and he and his family migrated to the Australian state of Victoria in 2006.

Three of his brothers are footballers, with his oldest brother Alou currently playing in Germany, and he played football locally in Victoria before being signed by Australian A-League side Central Coast Mariners at the age of 16.

After playing for Mariners’ youth side, he broke out in the 2021/22 season, scoring five goals in just 12 games as the plucky underdog Mariners made an unlikely run to the A-League finals.

His brilliant performances continued this season with two goals in four games off the bench, which led him to being thrust into Socceroos contention despite still never having started a senior football match.

MORE: The rise of Garang Kuol, the man who hasn’t started a senior game

Garang Kuol Socceroos career

Calls for Kuol to be included in the Australian senior team began as the side played their crucial World Cup qualifiers in 2022, and while Arnold initially resisted the urge to select him in those matches, Kuol was later selected for two friendly matches against neighbours New Zealand.

After sitting on the bench for the first match, he was introduced as a substitute in the second game with the Socceroos leading 1-0, and his impact has almost immediate.

From his own box, he embarked on a marauding run down the right flank past the New Zealand defence and crossed for his Central Coast teammate Jason Cummings. Although his shot was blocked, it was blocked with a hand, leading to a penalty.

Cummings converted the subsequent penalty attempt to seal the game for Australia, and the plaudits rained down for Kuol on his international debut.

The performance in his debut, combined with his game-changing impact off the bench for his club side, led to Arnold eventually selecting Kuol in the final 26-man squad to go to Qatar, much to the delight of Australian soccer faithful.

He made his World Cup debut off the bench in Australia’s first match of the tournament against France. However, by the time he came on the pitch the Socceroos were trailing 4-1, meaning his opportunity to make an impact on the game was limited.

He sat out Australia’s next two games, both stirring 1-0 wins that qualified them for an unlikely matchup against Messi’s Argentina, and as Australia fell behind 2-0, Arnold eventually turned to Kuol to help turn the tide. 

After Australia got their lifeline via the Argentina own goal, the side pushed forward and pressed the Argentina defence, and Kuol had a golden opportunity to equalise as he received the ball on the turn. He fired a shot away as quickly as he could, but the Argentina goalkeeper was on hand to deny him brilliantly in what was the last meaningful play of the match.

His brilliant performances at such a young age earned lots of attention, and have now gained him a move from the A-League to the biggest league in the world.

At the end of September, Premier League club Newcastle United announced they would be signing Kuol in the January transfer window, where it is believed he will be loaned out to another European club for the rest of the season.

MORE: Is Newcastle the right fit for Garang Kuol?

It wraps a whirlwind 12 months for the youngster, who this time last year was playing for the Central Coast youth team in Australia’s semi-professional competition and his rise to the top has truly proven remarkable.

Add to this the experience of playing in high-stakes World Cup matches against the likes of Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe, and this could just be the start of a standout career for the attacker.


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