Wednesday, January 17, 2018 11:28:47 AM
AFP, Kabul :
At a makeshift beach in landlocked Afghanistan, children as young as eight, wearing baggy Real Madrid and Barcelona shirts with "Ronaldo" and "Messi" printed on the back, joyfully kick and chase the ball.
Kabul's Ghazi stadium was the scene of gruesome executions under Taliban rule but today it is where Afghan youths, the majority of whom have never seen the sea, dream of representing their country at beach football.
"I had no idea about beach football before I joined this programme. I have never been to a beach," 14-year-old Mudasir Yousufzai tells AFP, head over heels for his newfound passion.
"We have a lot of problems. We play on dust and rocks, our goals have no net, but because I am in love with it I still like to play," he adds, smiling.
Yousufzai is one of dozens of youngsters taking part in a rapidly growing scheme that was set up six months ago to help find the brightest beach football talent in war-torn Afghanistan.
The brains behind the project is Hazratgul Baran, who plays for Afghanistan's surprisingly respectable national beach football team -- ranked 10 in Asia and 52 in the world, despite the lack of facilities and sand.
"When I first started this programme people wondered what I was doing. They would say, 'How can you prepare people to play beach football when they have no idea what a beach looks like?'," the 28-year-old tells AFP.
But Baran has had no problems attracting youngsters to the programme. Football is hugely popular in Afghanistan with kids playing on dirt roads, in markets and in schools -- wherever the security situation allows.
Interest in beach football in particular has boomed since the national team played their first international match, against Qatar, in 2013 -- a game they won against the odds.
In the beginning they were inspired by landlocked countries like Switzerland that are doing great internationally, says Ruhullah Rastagar, the director of the Afghan Beach Football Committee.
"And now we are doing better than a lot of countries who have beaches. We have beaten powerful teams such as Malaysia and China. If we have enough support, I am sure Afghanistan's beach football team will be at the top of the world rankings soon," he adds.
- Sun, soil, stones -
The enthusiasm shown by Afghan children for the beautiful game came to the world's attention last year when six-year-old Murtaza Ahmadi became an online hit after he was pictured wearing an improvised Lionel Messi shirt made out of a plastic bag. He later met his hero. Almost 200 boys, many from extremely poor families, train around three times a week at the Ghazi stadium.
"Most of our players are street kids who do not have any other chance to show their talents to the world," says Baran. "I go to very remote areas of Kabul to find these talents. If you can play on the street, you can play on the beach," he adds.
Baran played in the victory over Qatar. Afterwards he signed for a Brazilian beach football club in Sao Paulo but soon returned home, committed to developing Afghanistan's future stars.
"Unfortunately, nobody supports us financially. But I hope people help us so that we can continue this programme, which is very unique," Baran says.
Beach football pitches require a specific type of sand, usually sourced from beaches and desert dunes.
But at the Ghazi ground, the kids -- many of them barefoot -- play on heavier sand used for building construction, which is mixed with soil and rocks. Rather than a glittering ocean as a backdrop, the pitch is surrounded by dried-out thorn bushes.
The laughter of the young players is a welcome change from the ground's sinister past, however.
During the Taliban's rule from 1996-2001 thousands of spectators would be called to the stadium
to watch a football match. Before kick-off or at half-time people deemed disloyal to the regime were often executed or mutilated in front of the crowd.
Now, as dusk falls, the exhausted, dust-covered kids smile as they enthusiastically shake hands before heading home, dreaming of following in Baran's footsteps.
The economy has come under pressure due to the banking sector crisis, inflation and soaring imports amid inadequate export earnings and insufficient remittance inflows, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) said recently. The banking sector is suffering from cronyism, the think-tank said, adding that various irregularities and embezzlement of public ...
GM Ziaur Rahman Zia of SAIF Sporting Club finished runner-up in the 16th Delhi Open International Rating Chess Tournament which concluded on Tuesday at New Delhi in India. GM Zia earned 8 points out of 10 games to became runner-up in the event where total 27 Grandmasters participated.In the 10th ...
After tantalizing the senses of audiences with the edge of the seat teaser, Amazon Prime Video and Abundantia Entertainment have now released the much-awaited trailer of Breathe. Breathe brings to the audience R Madhavan in the OTT space for the very first time. The trailer of the digital series is ...
Sheikh Arif Bulbon :Popular TV actress Richi Solaiman returned to Bangladesh on December 8. This time she came here to pass time only with her family and close persons of media. Despite having earlier schedule to come to country Richi did not agree to work for this reason. After returning ...
Reuters: Beirut :Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Monday to "strangle" a planned 30,000-strong US-backed force in Syria "before it's even born," as Washington's backing for Kurdish fighters drove a wedge into relations with one of its main Middle East allies.The United States announced its support on Sunday for plans for ...
AFP, New York :Groomed to perfection yet rarely heard in public, Melania Trump is an enigma-a first lady whose opinions, marriage and goals remain a mystery to millions of Americans.She is without question a unique first lady: a former model who once posed nude in her husband's private jet; the ...
Kazi Zahidul Hasan :NRB Commercial (NRBC) Bank Ltd has taken steps to bring substantial amount of foreign investment mainly from expatriate Bangladeshis this year in line with the objective it stated in the founding charter. "The bank was established to bring investment of non-resident Bangladeshi (NRBs) but it slipped from ...
MORE than just holding small and big scale elections, it's time the Election Commission realise that it is essential to ensure the national elections is held in a free, fair and credible manner. The Election Commission is a constitutional body and its responsibility is to hold election directly on the ...
AFP :"I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed," Trump told reporters at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he was having dinner with Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.Trump appeared to give up for dead an immigration deal, ...
AP, Barcelona :Barcelona has broken its curse at Anoeta Stadium.Luis Suarez scored twice before Lionel Messi completed Barcelona's 4-2 comeback win at Real Sociedad on Sunday, giving the Catalan club its first league win at the Basque Country team since 2007.Barcelona was behind by two goals when Suarez set up ...
Entertainment Report :Shabnur and Purnima are two popular actresses in Dhaka film arena. Both of them have already got the National Film Award for single time. Shabnur got the National Award for acting in Mostafizur Rahman Manik’s movie Dui Noyon-er Alo. On the other hand, Purnima received the award for ...