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Playing against all odds

V V Subrahmanyam

— PHOTO: P. V. SIVAKUMAR

Focused: The Afghanistan soccer team watching an AFC Challenge Cup league match at Gachibowli.

HYDERABAD: They come from the war-ravaged Afghanistan and are chasing history, despite acute adversity! Afghanistan soccer team, in the city to compete in the AFC Challenge Cup, represents an amazing story of grit and unbridled passion for a sport which they love so much.

Consider this. The Taliban banned football back home from 1984-2003 as they didn’t want men to play the game in shorts! Even now, there is only one quality football ground (grass) across the country for obvious reasons – in Kabul - and that too run by Afghan Government.

The national football federation’s coffers are near-empty. So much so, that now the team is struggling to go back home as it doesn’t have money to pay the modification fee for their return tickets for August 4 (originally tickets were for August 15).

Funds constraint

Given this backdrop, Afghan soccer team’s story is of sheer saga. That this national team here is a congregation of players pooled from across the country and mostly training abroad is another interesting sidelight. Five players train in Germany, which took the initiative to promote soccer in Afghanistan under ‘Goal Project’ and even offered to train the national team free of cost for three months. But, even that help is now dwindling as the Afghans are being forced to look for their own alternatives.

Despite all the hurdles, these soccer players, who nurture a special relationship with the Indians and seem to be really fascinated by the reception and hospitality of the hosts, nurse a dream – to play in World Cup along with India, says coach Mohd Yusuf Kargar.

It may be like chasing a mirage but the mood of the Afghan camp reflects their determination to make a mark at the highest level. And they are buoyed by the first big win in their national history against Kyrgyzstan two years ago and qualifying for the first time to the second division of the AFC Challenge Cup. They take pride that despite terrorism throwing its ugly head in many prominent places back home like in Kandhahar, Kabul, there are at least 12 clubs in each Province where genuine talent is available. But how to groom it is the big question.

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