But the world's newest nation, which achieved independence 16 months ago, has sent a team to hosts Uganda with just 15 players and the coach says they have had little chance to train and no preparatory matches.
"It's the same as taking your soldiers to war without food," said well-travelled Serbian Zoran Dorjdevic in a radio interview. "How do you expect them to fight? With love or by spirit?"
The coach said the players were nevertheless excited about competing in the 12-nation championship, being played in Kampala, but not in any shape to prove competitive.
The squad includes two veteran former Sudan internationals, Richard Lado and James Moja Joseph, who plays club football in India. Two American-based players were expected to join the team before Saturday's kick-off.
South Sudan will also play Kenya on Tuesday and hosts Uganda on Friday in their other Group A matches.
South Sudan have competed in just a single international - a 2-2 draw with neighbours Uganda at home in Juba in July to celebrate their affiliation to FIFA, who have them ranked 200th in the world standings.