The first Viva World Cup match for Darfur United is tomorrow. I can sense the mounting excitement among the Darfur United players and coaches.

We have settled quickly, after only two days, into a routine of practices, team meals, and medical treatments. The tournament organizers, hotel, and Kurdistan fans (who line up the watch practices) have shown the greatest hospitality toward Darfur United.

My hotel room has been labeled by the players as “the hospital.” After team meals and meetings, the players line up in my room for treatment.

The demands of international travel, non-sand playing fields, new cleats, and training have resulted in some minor injuries and illnesses. The mood in ” the hospital” however, is only positive and the air is filled with playful discussions and encouragement amongst teammates. It feels like the players have known each other for years and not just for a few months.

Each player has emphasized how important this week is to them, Darfur, their families, and the world. A twisted ankle, cleated shin, or stomach upset won’t keep them off the field.

All the physical therapy treatments and taping are new for them. However, they have a ” do whatever it takes” mentality and are so appreciative.

One player came in for treatment for sore toes. He has been practicing for the last two days in cleats one or two sizes too small. They are here to play and showcase their situation to the world. Small shoes aren’t a priority. As of today he will be playing with larger sized cleats. As natural athletes, they are responding well and healing very quickly. One player is struggling a bit with a leg injury sustained while playing a match in Chad. I am doing everything in my power to get him game ready.

There isn’t a lot of time to explain the reasoning behind each treatment. Why I put ice on a swollen lip from a ball in the face or why I tape a certain way to prevent the ankle from rolling outwards. We only have a day left to prepare for the biggest moment in their lives. There is no time, just trust.

As I look around “the hospital” filled with Darfur United players, words escape me. Like the players, I have to pinch myself. These moments pass quickly, however. In ” the hospital,” there isn’t the time to pinch oneself to see if this is all a dream. The dream is real and it’s time for another treatment.

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